Patterns of Faithfulness: the boy Joseph Smith

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We will begin our investigation of faithfulness with the first convert of the restoration, Joseph Smith, and it’s important that he be viewed as a convert. It would be a mistake to assume that once Joseph left that grove in 1820 he was a full blown, mature prophet of God. That process will take years and will be developed further in the next post. For our purposes here, we shall observe what the young boy Joseph did to learn for himself (see Joseph Smith- History 1:20). This pattern may be replicated by anybody who wishes for a personal witness of the truth.

Joseph’s inquiry begins during a great spiritual revival, known as the Second Great Awakening. Since the days of the Revolution, many Americans were becoming slothful in their religious observances. It therefore became a priority among ministers to reinvigorate the faith and bring religious observance back in the people. The scene of these revivals were the classic frontier camp meetings where ministers would set up large tents and start preaching. People could come and go as they listen to the varied messages of salvation, and chose a faith to join. Joseph would descibe this scene as “an unusual exitement” that “ created no small stir amongst the people, some crying, ‘Lo, here!’ and others, ‘Lo, there!’” (JS-H 1:5).

As these meeting progressed, the people began “ to file off, some to one party and some to another” when it became apparent “that the seemingly good feelings of both priests and the converts were more pretended than real” (JS-H 1:6) as contention and strife became common at these revivals.

It is as this point that we begin to see Joseph demonstrate a pattern for seeking answers in faith. For we, like him, live in a day where “all things [are]in commotion” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:91) and the good feelings of so many vying for our trust and belief may be more pretended than real. Indeed, there are many who want to destroy our faith in the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, and who feel the ends justify the less than honest means.

We observe Joseph experiencing “serious reflection and great uneasiness” as he is witnessing the Second Great Awakening. Yet Joseph keeps himself unaffiliated with any group as he investigates all their meetings. He is willing to do his homework before he makes any descision that would involve what he would believe. As he does this investigation he starts to form an opinion. He begins to be “somewhat partial to the Methodist sect” and if he had to choose, that would be the one. Dispite this opinion, Joseph was still honest with himself that he hadn’t “come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong” (JS-H 1:8).

A person who wishes to emulate the young Joseph in seeking answers by faith, should recognize what he did. First, his question was a serious one. This was not a passing curiousity. Second, Joseph is willing to act, utilizing the resources he had available. He was determined to investigate all claims that applied to his question. In doing so he began to form an opinion, but was honest enough with himself to admit he didn’t know enough “to come to any certain conclusion” (JS-H 1:8). The honest in heart will always demonstrate their intent by doing what they can, and admiting where they’re limited. Without this intellectual integrity, truth will not be sought, only validation to preconceived notions.

As the young Joseph continues his investigation, he comes across (or is directed to) a particular passage of scripture that changes everything. It’s not necessarily what the verse says that is so impactful, for certainly this message is conspicuous in scripture. What changes everything is what he felt upon reading this scripture. “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power into the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again…” (JS-H 1:12).

An impression from God, it should be realized, will cause something of an imprint as the word implies. A person seeking answers in faith would be wise to recognize when an idea becomes powerful to them and they can’t get it off of their mind. This is one of the definitions of the word of God, it’s not just His word to ancient prophets, it literally is His word to us. The Lord is able to make certain passages of His word stand out more impressively to us than others.

What Joseph does following this impression is well known. It is of note to point out that following a still, small communication from God, Joseph “came to a determination” (JS-H 1:13) to act. He did not enter the grove to simply ask which church was true, he asked which church he was to join. Any honest seeker of truth must have their mind and heart made up to act upon the answer they recieve. If they do not “ask with real intent” then they will never know “by the power of the Holy Ghost… the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4-5). This pattern is available to all, and it is the beginning of faithfulness.

Patterns of Faithfulness: Introduction

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The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, interpreted a dream that prophesied of the last days. “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44). This latter day kingdom is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the authority of this church “shall never be taken again from the earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 13:1).

Throughout the history of the earth, the Lord has been communicating with and directing His children through revelation to His prophets. Each period of time when this occurs is called a dispensation. “The Bible suggests at least one dispensation identified with Adam, another with Enoch, another with Noah, and so on with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus with His Apostles in the meridian of time. Paul writes of ‘the dispensation of the fulness of times’ in which the Lord will ‘gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth’ (Eph. 1:10). The fulness of times is the final dispensation and began with the revelation of the gospel to Joseph Smith” (Bible Dictionary, 56). Each of the previous gospel dispensations ended in an apostasy. Our dispensation will not.

Notwithstanding this prophesied reality concerning the Kingdom of God standing forever, there is no promise that individual members of the Kingdom will likewise never fall away. In fact, the sad reality is that no one is exempt from this possibility (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:32 ). Even the prophet Joseph Smith was warned “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him” (Doctrine and Covenants 3:4 emphasis added). Also this warning, “there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me…if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:3-4, emphasis added). The Prophet was made well aware that his standing before the Lord was not guaranteed and there was another who could be called to replace him. I would propose that if Joseph Smith isn’t safe from falling, then no one is safe to assume they will never fall away.

Some of the sad history of this church is that many did (and still do) fall away, even some of the great ones in our early history. Men who experienced spiritual gifts, served missions, and sacrificed reputation, wealth and health fell away. Men who saw visions, the gold plates, angels, and even the Father and the Son fell away.

At the same time, many stayed true to the faith in the face of so much persecution, opposition, and doubt. Why does this happen? Are their patterns we can observe in those who remained faithful as well as in those who fell away? My goal is to write several more posts highlighting some of these patterns in the early saints, with the hope of giving insight for how we can stay faithful today.

As we approach the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will see “an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked;” (Doctrine and Covenants 63:54). This is a time where there “shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:22). Our ability to guard ourselves against the threat of personal apostasy should be one of our great priorities in these last days.