Your browser does not support the audio element. For instance, a prophet is a foreteller; he has prophetic access to the future. A prophet too is a man who has authority, who speaks with more than human sanction. He is a recoverer or discoverer of truth. He is an advocate of social righteousness. He is a charismatic, one whose personality manifests something that attracts in a spiritual sense.
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Your browser does not support the audio element. May I begin with the comment of the late Sidney B. One reason he studied ancient languages was to gain the advantage of reading in the earlier source materials.
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.
I begin with that because a feeling constantly recurs as one studies the life of Joseph Smith. You never quite get to the bottom. 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.
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. 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. Even at that, he bore all he could bear and was prematurely old at age thirty-eight. 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. He was beardless: he shaved, but he did not have a heavy or thick beard. He had a strong and robust pair of shoulders and from there tapered down. For example, he wrestled, and wrestled effectively.
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 was known to create games with prizes, including booby prizes. When I am with the boys I make all the fun I can for them. Turn for a moment to his mind. It was a remarkable mind. In addition to that he aspired to the ancient languages. 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. 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.
But he did not abuse it. 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. Thy mind, O man! Apparently Joseph had to learn by repetition, just as the rest of us do, for in 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. Many might suppose that one visit from such a heavenly visitor would be sufficient. On the contrary. Joseph listened. He remembered. 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.
Then a very long predicate. Joseph Smith dictated it straight and, apparently, without a change. That is amazing enough. 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. 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. 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. Compare the two prose styles.
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. 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.
By the end of the semester I would like each of you to write pages having the following characteristics. 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. 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. That was disquieting enough for some that they left the Church. 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. On one occasion ministers came to him intent on tying him up in scriptural analysis, as they had bragged they would do.
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. See if you can best me at that. 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. 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. 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. He stopped one of them who was heading for the town. What would you think if I told you I was Joseph Smith?
If not, they should turn back right now. It was difficult to strike that balance. Some thought he was too human, some thought he was too prophetic. Both were wrong. Smith, a cousin of the Prophet Joseph Smith, was in girth, at least, a larger man. He weighed nearly three hundred pounds.
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. 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. 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?
Joseph Smith Lecture 1: The First Vision and Its Aftermath
Joseph Smith the Prophet
Joseph Smith Lecture 2: Joseph’s Personality and Character