Joseph Smith Lecture 2: Joseph’s Personality and Character | Truman G. Madsen


Let us now do a close-up of the personality
and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. May I begin with the comment of the late Sidney
B. Sperry, who was perhaps the Church’s most knowledgeable Hebraist. He studied years
ago with some of the world’s renowned scholars at the University of Chicago and then came
to Brigham Young University, where he remained for his entire career. One reason he studied
ancient languages was to gain the advantage of reading in the earlier source materials.
Because of his scholarly achievements, some of his colleagues spoke of him as “the accomplished
SBS.” Early in his life, he said, he had aspired to know more about the scriptures
than any man living. He told me, and this is the point, that he had become aware that
no man in this generation could possibly know as much about the scriptures as did the Prophet
Joseph Smith. He said to me once, “I believe I will not be counted worthy to black his boots in the life to come.” And he was a very worthy man. I begin with that because there is a feeling constantly recurs as one studies the life of Joseph Smith. You never quite get to the bottom. There is always more. You can
be so impressed and overcome with glimpses that you say, “Nothing good that I could
learn of him would be surprising.” And then you become surprised. There is always more.
It takes deep to comprehend deep, and I often wonder if any of us have the depth to fully
comprehend this man. I want to focus not so much on his prophetic character and gifts
as on the characteristics observed by those who surrounded him—on Joseph Smith the man.
Consider for a moment his appearance. We know from the record that he was, in his prime,
a little over six feet in height. He weighed over two hundred pounds. One of his advantages
all through life was an extremely vigorous and dynamic physical constitution. Without
that, he might not have survived the first major crisis of his life—at seven or eight
years of age a bone infection, which in most instances required amputation. The doctor,
under the pleading of Mother Smith, finally consented to perform less drastic surgery,
of course without anesthetic. If you can imagine a section of your leg bone being bored into
then broken off in pieces with forceps while you are fully conscious, you will understand
what the boy endured. Doctor Wirthlin, in our generation, has shown that one physician
from Dartmouth Medical College in New Hampshire was the only man in the United States who
understood how to perform that operation and who had the compassion and the skill to do
so. That’s only one glimpse of Joseph’s hardy, enduring physical constitution. Even
at that, he bore all he could bear and was prematurely old at age thirty-eight. The death
mask applied by George Cannon, a convert from England, to the face of Joseph (as also one
to Hyrum) after the Carthage assassination gives us the exact lineaments of the Prophet’s
forehead, his hairline, which was in 1844 receding some, partly as a result of poisoning.
His nose was, as the statue on Salt Lake City’s Temple Square depicts, unusually large. And
yet it is the comment of those visiting from the East and of his own convert friends that
he was a magnificent man. The word handsome recurs, and there are references, at least
in the earlier years, to the color and abundance of his hair. It was an auburn cast. There
was something of a transparency about his countenance. He was beardless: he shaved,
but he did not have a heavy or thick beard. Of the shape of his body, one writer says
that there was “no breakage” about it. He had a strong and robust pair of shoulders
and from there tapered down. He had become a little portly in the late years at Nauvoo.
There were few manly sports that he didn’t have a try at, and many in which he excelled.
For example, he wrestled, and wrestled effectively. He jumped at the mark. In this activity you
simply drew a mark on the ground, then jumped and marked where you landed, then challenged
someone else to match or exceed the jump. He pulled up stakes: Here two men faced each
other, placing feet against feet, and then pulled; the stronger one remained on the ground,
the other came up. There’s another version of that in which, face to face, you hold a
pole, like a broomstick, and then pull down. The stronger of the two holds, and his hands
don’t slip. The weaker’s hands slip. With the boys Joseph often played baseball and
variations on quoits. He was known to create games with prizes, including booby prizes.
On occasion, especially when he had beaten a challenger, he would say something like,
“You must not mind this. When I am with the boys I make all the fun I can for them.”
So much for the athletic side. Turn for a moment to his mind. It was a remarkable mind.
Mother Smith records that he was “much less inclined to perusal of books than any of the
rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study.” Yet as he matured
and as the weight of his calling came upon him he became an assiduous, hard-reading student,
poring over the scriptures, even being appointed to go over them word by word, line by line,
and make inspired changes. In addition to that he aspired to the ancient languages.
At Kirtland he set up a school in Hebrew with Joshua Seixas as the teacher. Six of the students
had not even mastered English in its rudiments. The minutes say that the two outstanding students
in that school were Joseph Smith and Orson Pratt, in that order. The worst was Heber
C. Kimball. The Prophet became so impatient one day with Heber, he said “Heber, you learn that Hebrew vowel, or I’ll whip you!” Heber replied, “Go ahead, and whip.” Intellectual gifts fall into many categories. For convenience, let us consider
four. First of all there is imagination, the ability to picture the concrete pictorially,
vividly, in its possibilities and variations. This is the fund of creativity. Joseph Smith
had a vivid ability to picture and, some would add, a dramatic propensity. He counseled that
we should avoid, as he put it, “a fanciful and flowery and heated imagination.” He
had the gift. But he did not abuse it. Next is the ability to conceptualize; to understand
principles, information, truth, and then (which isn’t quite the same) to express them accurately,
clearly, and, as need be, briefly. Joseph Smith, whatever his early tendencies and however he may or may not have shown up in school, had a brilliant conceptual ability both to
see and to understand, to go to the heart of an issue and then to express it so that
others would understand. Related to that is the admonition he wrote while he was for many
months in isolation in Liberty. He wrote a letter, parts of which are in our Doctrine
and Covenants (but the part that is not included is equally profound). He says: “The things
of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts
can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must
stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss,
and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.” That remarkable passage
is in the context of his saying that often in our most important council meetings, classes,
and gatherings we have been light-minded, “vain and trifling,” and too often unconcentrated
in our direction. Third is memory, the ability to retain what one learns and summon it at will for further use, implication, or application. Apparently Joseph had to learn by repetition,
just as the rest of us do, for in 1823 Moroni came and repeated the same message four times,
including quotations from scripture. Thus the Prophet heard them often enough and clearly
enough to recognize differences from the King James version of the Bible. Four times he
had to hear the message. Many might suppose that one visit from such a heavenly visitor
would be sufficient. On the contrary. The difficulty would be immense, of being able to concentrate. Sometimes there is an initial expression of fear, as the scriptures record, withdrawal, the difficulty of getting one’s self off one’s hands, long enough to listen. Joseph listened. He remembered. We find evidence of his remarkable memory near the other end of his life, when he sat down with William Clayton
and his brother Hyrum and dictated the revelation we now call section 132 of the Doctrine and
Covenants. It is a long revelation—sixty-six verses, many of which are themselves long.
Verse 19, for example, is over two hundred words. Some of the verses describe the conditions
of the everlasting covenant in such terms as an attorney might use who had spent days
thinking up every possible synonym, nuance, and contingency so that no loophole would
remain. For example: “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances,
connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and . . .” That’s
the subject of the sentence. Then there’s the verb. Then a very long predicate. To have
written that after patient winnowing of the dictionary would be an achievement. Joseph
Smith dictated it straight and, apparently, without a change. That is amazing enough.
But then we learn from William Clayton that the Prophet declared that “he knew the revelation
perfectly, and could rewrite it at any time if necessary.” Now, that is staggering!
He had the essential core of that involved revelation so clearly in mind that he had
full confidence he could restate it. He may have meant that he could dictate it in the
exact words, and if this is so he was indeed gifted in that respect beyond normal mortal
ability. But I think he meant only that the content was clear to him and it would not
be lost if the written version were lost. That shows a remarkable memory. Fourth is
the ability to be simplicity-minded, and that’s a gift. Not “simpleminded,” but “­simplicity-minded,”
having the ability to reduce elaborate ideas to a core center or essence. At the same time
it is a gift to be able to see what other minds do not; to recognize implications, nuances,
extensions of ideas that go beyond ordinary perception. Here again Joseph Smith was an
original, for on the one hand in administrative and ­decision-making enterprises he went
quickly to the heart of the matter with ingenuity and skill. But on the other hand, if required
and asked to elaborate on a given doctrine or teaching he could do so and then would
stretch the minds of all present. As to the overall quality of the written work of Joseph
Smith, Arthur Henry King, a convert to the Church and a renowned English professor, has
said that in his judgment the Prophet’s account in Joseph Smith—History (see the
Pearl of Great Price), which includes his account of the First Vision and the visits
of Moroni, is among the sublime prose in world literature. The same scholar has also said
that one may contrast that writing favorably with the more ornate but in many respects
more shallow writing of Oliver Cowdery, whose description of his feelings during the translation
process and during John the Baptist’s appearance is given at the end of Joseph’s account
in the Pearl of Great Price. Compare the two prose styles. In every way, Arthur Henry King
observes, Joseph Smith’s is superior. We need not apologize at all for the language
or structure or form of the Book of Mormon. It is among the great books of the world.
It is to be placed side by side with those books which are called canonical. There is
a transparency, a brilliance, a white light about its most spiritual elements that I do
not find anywhere else. It is a masterwork. Joseph Smith did not produce it and could
not have produced it. For years it has been said that anybody who had lived in Western
New York or anybody who would take the time could grind out such “imitation scripture”
himself. Hugh Nibley, becoming a little impatient with that sort of nonsense, once had a class
of Middle East students, all of them from the Palestine area or farther East. At the
opening of his class he said: “I am making a term paper assignment. By the end of the
semester I would like each of you to write 522 pages having the following characteristics.”
And then he outlined what the Book of Mormon has and is. So far he has not received the
assignment back. No man and no combination of men could have written that book except
under divine inspiration. I offer one other point, this from my own perspective. Take
section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants—I leave out many other sections of which the
same could be said. In my considered judgment (and I have read a little in the philosophers
of the world) this section is superior in content to Plato’s Timaeus. Plato may or
may not deserve the reputation of being the greatest philosopher of the western world,
which has been reiterated through many generations, but I say that Joseph Smith, as an instrument
for receiving and transmitting God’s word, was more profound than Plato. He had the added
advantage of the Holy Ghost. Now let’s turn to his temperament, to his emotional makeup,
to his dispositions. Early in his own account of his life he said he had a “native cheery
temperament.” Thank the Lord he did. It stood him in good stead. Many joined the Church,
some from foreign lands and some from the United States, many out of New England with
its conservative and sometimes rigid Puritanical traditions, others from movements such as
the Quakers and the Baptists. They compared Joseph Smith with his brother Hyrum and remarked
that Hyrum seemed more in the image of what they thought a prophet should look like and
behave like. He was, they meant to say, more sedate, sober, serious. The Prophet, for all
his sobriety under proper circumstance, was a hail-fellow-well-met, easily inclined to
laughter, sociable, animated, the life of the party, and colorful in his use of language.
That was disquieting enough for some that they left the Church. For instance, a family
visited the Prophet when he was upstairs for a time translating—serious and tedious work.
Then he came downstairs and began to roll on the floor and frolic with his little children.
This family was indignant and left the Church. Not only did Joseph Smith have that temperament,
but he found it difficult to abide opposite attitudes, especially when they arose from
false traditions. On one occasion ministers came to him intent on tying him up in scriptural
analysis, as they had bragged they would do. They kept trying to push him into a corner,
but each time he not only had answers but also questions for them that they couldn’t
handle. Finally they became convinced it would be better if they left. As they went to the
door, the Prophet preceded them. He went out, made a mark on the ground, and jumped. “Now
gentlemen,” he said, “you haven’t bested me at the scriptures. See if you can best
me at that.” They went away much incensed. A man who had developed a certain falsetto
came to Joseph. In our generation we are not familiar with this phenomenon, but in preaching
without public address systems in those days some Methodists—for example, in the role
of exhorter—would pitch their voices high and shout so loudly that it could be heard
a mile away. Sometimes they prayed that way. One man with exactly that tone came and said,
with a kind of supercilious reverence, “Is it possible that I now flash my optics upon
a Prophet?” “Yes,” the Prophet replied, “I don’t know but you do; would not you
like to wrestle with me?” The man was shocked. On one occasion a man of that same stripe,
Joshua Holman, a former Methodist exhorter, was out with some other men cutting firewood
for the Prophet when they were all invited to lunch at Joseph’s home. When the Prophet
called on Joshua to ask a blessing on the food, he set about a lengthy and loud prayer
that incorporated inappropriate expressions. The Prophet did not interrupt him, but when
the man was through he said simply, “Brother Joshua, don’t let me ever hear you ask another
such blessing. You don’t have to bray like a jackass to be heard of the Lord.” He went away upset. “I do many things to break down superstition,”
he said. At another time, he said, “Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am
charged with doing.” Joseph had a sense of humor. He sometimes joshed the brethren
even in serious circumstances. An example is the time when a report spread that a man
had sold his wife and the price was a bull-eye watch. Riding his horse, Joseph Smith came
across Daniel McArthur chopping wood. The Prophet greeted him, then said, “You are
not the young man who sold his wife for a bull-eye watch the other day, are you?” He didn’t quite know how to take that, but replied he was not. On another occasion, with serious intent but humorous overtones, the Prophet dressed up
in rough clothes, got on a horse, and rode down to meet a group of converts who had just
arrived from England. He stopped one of them who was heading for the town. “Are you a
Mormon?” the Prophet asked. “Yes sir,” said Edwin Rushton. “What do you know about
old Joe Smith?” “I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.” What would you think if I told you I was Joseph
Smith?” “If you are Joseph Smith, I know you are a prophet of God.” “I am Joseph
Smith,” the Prophet said, this time in gentle tones. “I came to meet those people, dressed
as I am in rough clothes and speaking in this manner, to see if their faith is strong enough
to stand the things they must meet. If not, they should turn back right now.” It would
seem that the Prophet spent half his time trying to convince the slow and sludgy people
who had a little faith that God was indeed with him and with them; and that he spent
the other half alerting the Saints that a prophet is a prophet only when he is acting
as such, which means when he is inspired of God. The rest of the time he is a mere mortal—has
opinions, makes mistakes, and in a general way of speaking has to put his pants on one
leg at a time as every other man does. It was difficult to strike that balance. Some
thought he was too human, some thought he was too prophetic. Both were wrong. George A.
Smith, a cousin of the Prophet Joseph Smith, was in girth, at least, a larger man. He weighed
nearly three hundred pounds. One day they were discussing William W. Phelps as an editor.
He had a gift as well as a curse for using language in an abrasive way, and in his editorials
he managed to offend almost everyone. In his conversation with the Prophet, George A.
Smith’s evaluation was that Phelps had a certain literary zeal, and that as far as
George A. was concerned he would be willing to pay Phelps for editing a paper so long
as nobody else but George A. would be allowed to read it. At this, it is recorded, “Joseph
laughed heartily—said I had the thing just right.” And then he hugged him and said,
“George A., I love you as I do my own life.” On another occasion he gave George A. this
bit of serious counsel: “Never be discouraged. 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.” There is next the question of whether in all of
his attitudes the Prophet demonstrated appropriate humility and the very thing he taught in word,
namely, compassion and forbearance and forgiveness. He is reported as saying that he had “a
subtle devil to deal with, and could only curb him by being humble.” No braggadocio,
no threats, no vainglorying. We do not have power over the adversary and his hosts except
through the power of Christ, and we do not have such power save we are humble and receptive.
What is humility? There are a thousand definitions, but it means at least acknowledging one’s
dependence on the Lord, acknowledging when and where one is not self-sufficient. Joseph,
according to those who knew him best, was in that sense humble. Here we are not talking
about boldness—he had that; it is not the opposite of humility. We are not talking about
willingness to endure in strength—he had that, and that too is not the opposite of
humility. We are saying that Joseph did not manifest the debilitating pride that destroys
humility. That is the witness left by several who knew him best. Eliza R. Snow, who had
heard of the Prophet and some very ugly things in that ­connection, happened to be at home
one day when the Prophet called and visited with her family. “In the winter of 1830
and ’31, Joseph Smith called at my father’s,” she wrote of this visit, “and as he sat
warming himself, I scrutinized his face as closely as I could without attracting his
attention, and decided that his was an honest face.” Later, after joining the Church,
she was often in his home as a kind of babysitter and help for a time in Kirtland. She first
admired him in his public ministry, saw him as a prophet, but not until she saw him in
his own home, on his knees in prayer, and in his relationship with his children did
her whole heart go out to him in admiration. He was, she said, as humble as a little child.
Was the Prophet an emotional man? In all the worthy senses of that word, the answer is
yes. The tears sprang easily to his eyes, and this happened in varied situations. There
is, for example, the occasion on which Parley P. Pratt returned to Nauvoo by boat, having
been on a long mission, and the Prophet came down to greet him and just wept. When Parley
could extricate himself he said, “Why Brother Joseph, if you feel so bad about our coming,
I guess we will have to go back again.” He wept, too, at good-byes: the tears were
flowing fast on the day he said good-bye to his family before he left for Richmond Jail.
The Lord himself acknowledged this compassionate heart when he said in a revelation, speaking
of Joseph, “His prayers I have heard. Yea, and his weeping for Zion I have seen, and
I will cause that he shall mourn for her no longer.” He characterized himself as “like
a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is
when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else.” He also
called himself a “lone tree.” He had learned in Vermont that those maples that stood alone
had to develop deep roots early; if they did not, the inevitable blast of winter storms
would take them down. For all of his social sense, there were times when he felt deeply
lonely. “O that I had the language of the archangel to express my feeling once to my
friends,” he said. “But I never expect to.” “You don’t know me,” he said
in the King Follett discourse. “You never knew my heart.” And then this remarkable
phrase, “I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced
what I have, I could not have believed it myself.” In that loneliness, he had to keep
to his own bosom (those were his words) certain deep understandings the Lord had vouchsafed
to him with the command that he not share them. “The reason,” he once said, “we
do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us is because we do not keep them but
reveal them . . . even to our enemies.” Then he added, “I can keep a secret till
Doomsday.” And so he did. As an emotional and loving man, what kind of a home life did
the Prophet have? Under the ­buffetings that relentlessly began with the Prophet’s announcement
of his first vision and continued until his death, it is miraculous that he had as much
time at home as he did. He and Emma had nine children, of whom four died at birth and one
at fourteen months. In the ache of her bosom at the loss of twins, Emma moved the Prophet
to go and bring home twins, a boy and a girl, whose mother had died in that same week. Emma
raised those children. The boy died at eleven months under the exposure he suffered the
night the Prophet was mobbed in Hiram, Ohio—beaten, tarred and feathered, and left. The girl lived
to maturity but never responded to the message of the gospel. Only in one instance did Emma
bear a child in a home she could call her own, and that was David Hyrum, born after
the Prophet’s death. And as for Emma in general, the certainty of the record is this
simple: Joseph Smith loved her with his whole soul. And the corollary is, Emma loved him
with her whole soul. She was “an elect lady.” She was not only a remarkable woman but, except
for the difficulties that came with plural marriage, she was also a noble and glorious
supporter of all the Prophet did, as Mother Smith indicated in
her personal tribute. The Prophet’s home life with Emma included prayers three times
a day, morning, noon, and night. It included her leading the family in singing. The “family”
was always larger than Joseph’s blood relatives—visitors from different places, immigrants needing
temporary accommodation, and so on. Some came for a week or so, and some, like John Bernhisel,
for three years. Being so commanded as “an elect lady,” she compiled a hymnal, some
of whose contents are still in our present hymnbook. The Prophet Joseph helped Emma in
taking care of the children and the domestic chores—building fires, carrying out ashes,
bringing in wood and water, and so on. He was criticized more than once for that, some
men thinking that was beneath his dignity. With kindly reproof the Prophet set them straight
and counseled that they go and do likewise. The Prophet was neat, too. His axe was always
carefully sharpened and properly placed after he had used it. His store of wood was always
neatly stacked, his yard was well kept, and until his death he was a farmer who earned
much of what he was able to eat by plowing, planting, weeding, and harvesting. We have
a glimpse of his sleeping ability from Lorin Farr, who observed that even in the Missouri
persecution days, even under pressure—and of course he was then under the kind of pressure
that leads to the worst fatigue—he could sit down at the base of a tree and almost
instantly fall into slumber, but almost as instantly snap back to full and alert activity.
That may have something to do with a clear conscience and the assurance that God is with
you. He avoided, but could not wholly avoid, the tedious trivia of life. He did not like
the clerical functions. He was less than enthusiastic about the commandment which came on the very
day the Church was organized that a record must be kept day by day and that in it all
of the important events should be recorded. But he complied. He had helpful scribes. He
was patient with them, and they with him. In a relaxed moment one day the Prophet turned
to his secretary, Howard Coray, and said, “Brother Coray I wish you were a little
larger. I would like to have some fun with you,” meaning wrestling. Brother Coray said,
“Perhaps you can as it is.” The Prophet reached and grappled him and twisted him over—and
broke his leg. All compassion, he carried him home, put him in bed, and splinted and
bandaged his leg. Brother Coray later said, “Brother Joseph, when Jacob wrestled with
the angel and was lamed by him, the angel blessed him. Now I think I am also entitled
to a blessing.” Joseph had his father give him the blessing, and his leg healed with
remarkable speed. To Robert B. Thompson, his secretary, the Prophet said, “Robert, you
have been so faithful and relentless in this work, you need to relax.” He told him to
go out and enjoy himself, to relax. But Thompson was a serious-minded man. He said, “I can’t
do it.” Joseph responded, “You must do it, if you don’t do it, you will die.”
One of the sorrows of Joseph’s life was that Robert B. Thompson had a premature death
and that he had to speak at the funeral. He learned to relax, and when chided for it he
commented that if a man has a bow and keeps it constantly strung tight, it will soon lose
its spring. The bow must be unstrung. Somebody who saw him with his head down, pensive and
deep in thought, said to him, “Brother Joseph, why don’t you hold your head up and talk
to us like a man?” The Prophet’s response was, “Look at those heads of grain.” The
man looked out at the field of ripened wheat and saw that the heaviest sheaves, the ones
full of grain, were bent down. The Prophet was implying that his mind was heavy laden.
But fortunately he could unleash. Two other glimpses of his home life: When mistreated,
he was inclined to “get even” by offering the hospitality of his home. That involved
Emma and her talents in cooking. Often he invited people with little warning—“If
ye will not embrace our religion, accept our hospitality.” There were times when the
cupboard was bare. One day they had nothing to eat but a little corn meal. They made out
of it a johnnycake, as it was called, and the Prophet offered the blessing as follows:
“Lord, we thank thee for this johnnycake and ask thee to send us something better.
Amen.” Before the meal was over a knock came at the door, and there stood a man with
a ham and some flour. The Prophet jumped to his feet and said to Emma, “I knew the Lord
would answer my prayer.” He shared and shared until he was utterly impoverished. Now a few
comparisons: We have the testimony of Peter Burnett, one-time Governor of California,
who had known Joseph Smith in the Missouri period, that he found him a man of great leadership
gifts, a man who instinctively commanded admiration and respect. Stephen A. Douglas, whose title,
“the Little Giant,” was, one source claims, applied to him by Joseph Smith—the same
Stephen A. Douglas who debated Lincoln and who aspired, as the Prophet predicted he would,
to the Presidency of the United States—had many admiring things to say of Joseph during
the Illinois period. He said he had independence of mind. Alexander Doniphan was the general
who refused to shoot the brothers Smith in the Far West square as ordered, and who wrote
to General Lucas, “I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.”
James W. Woods, the Prophet’s last attorney, was with him on the morning of June 27, 1844.
Never a Latter-day Saint, he observed that you could see the strength of Joseph Smith
in his manner and dignity, but he added that you could see by his face alone that he was
not a bad man. Daniel H. Wells, “Squire Wells,” who heard Joseph speak twice in
Nauvoo, was a kind of nineteenth century justice of the peace. He heard him speak on the principle
that every son and daughter of Adam, sooner or later, whether in this life or the next,
will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity and in its fullness and will have adequate
option to choose it; and that those who accept it and live it, including the disembodied
spirits who would have done so if they had had opportunity in mortality, will have the
right and access to all the ordinances that are performed only in this life. How? By proxy.
This man, trained in law and impressed by the justice of the Prophet’s teachings,
said, “I have known legal men all my life. Joseph Smith was the best lawyer that I have
ever known in all my life.” We have from Brigham Young a comment on Joseph’s being
different from Hyrum, and beyond the obvious comments is one to the effect that Joseph’s
ability, including his breadth of vision, was superior to Hyrum’s. An implication
of this is that Joseph was more susceptible to the continuing impressions and revelations
of God. That is, he did not become so rigidly bound to what had been given that he was unsusceptible to what yet had to be given. Yet that is a tendency. Claiming integrity, one can harden
on past traditions and can thus become immune to living revelation. And the Prophet tended
to judge men with that same openness: that is, not all cases are identical; each individual
has his own special differences and must be brought into harmony with the Lord in ways
that recognize these differences. Again, this shows a mind that is not only open but also
receptive; and not only receptive, but also obedient, even when the required response
seemed to run counter to former assumptions and traditions. This was an essential element
for the revelator of our dispensation. To summarize, in Joseph Smith we have a man who
physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually was a living human multitude.
He was many men in one, as it were. Many of his gifts were balanced with others, and all
in all he was a superb instrument with whom the Lord could and did work in the dispensation
of the fulness of times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *