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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

Praise to the man!

So I just finished a 2 year project in which I studied the life of Joseph Smith and the Doctrine and Covenants. I went month by month from 1805-1844 (with some obvious large gaps during Joseph's early years which were less documented) using multiple sources and journaling about the major events of church history. I just arrived at June of 1844 and the martyrdom of Joseph Smith.

In completing this exploration of the life of Joseph Smith I felt like I needed to write down a summation of his story when I considered the totality of it as a whole. However, Richard Bushman in many ways summed it up better than I could.

"James Gordon Bennett, the energetic editor of the New York Herald,… came closer to understanding Joseph’s historical role. “The Mormons, under the guidance of their great prophet and seer, the famous Joe Smith,” it was reported, “are organizing a religious empire in the far west that will astonish the world in these latter days.” Bennett’s correspondent sensed that Mormonism was more than a church. The article said that Joseph Smith was “without a parallel in the history of nations since the time of Mahomet. . . . Both combined religion, political, moral, and social institutions in one mass of legislation and empire.”

The Herald’s florid picture came close to describing Joseph’s own ambitions for the Latter-day Saints, although he would have preferred “Zion” or “the Kingdom of God” as a name rather than “empire.” Almost from the beginning, he wanted more than a church. He was not satisfied with conversions or building up a congregation. Six months after the organization of the Church, the revelations directed him to organize “Zion.” The word implied a society, and in Joseph’s revelations, Zion became a city. The unit of organization was not the parish or the synod but the community. He worked all his life to organize communities, and in the end he succeeded. The judgment of history has been that Joseph’s great achievement was the creation of the Mormon people…

Only a person of powerful conviction could have remained productive and hopeful through the discouragements. For years, the kingdom existed primarily in Joseph’s mind. He was one of those unlettered men who could have built a railroad or governed a state. Josiah Quincy saw in him “that kingly faculty which directs, as by intrinsic right.” But where his powers came from is a mystery. His upbringing seems so inadequate to his ambitions. He was undoubtedly blessed with intelligence and will, and the Bible, his chief cultural resource, was a trove of possibilities, but how was he able to perceive what lay in its pages? Whence the new scripture, the global schemes for a kingdom, the stories of eternity? He lacked the learning to conceive of the world on such a scale.

His people marveled that he did so much when he was just one of them, and his accomplishments—translations, cities, missions, gatherings, priesthoods, temples, cosmologies, governments—are astonishing by any standard. Joseph Smith himself did not take credit for his achievements. All he could speak of was his “marvilous experience.” Perhaps his signal trait was trust in his own inspiration. He knew he was no more than a rough stone cut from a Vermont hillside. He told one audience “he was but a man, . . . a plain, untutored man; seeking what he should do to be saved.” But his revelations enabled him, as one scholar has said of prophets, “to do unaccustomed things.” It was his calling, as Joseph himself put it, to “lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world.”

— Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman The reality is that critics make much of episodes in Josephs life, but rarely do they look at the big picture of the entirety of his life, work and legacy. When looking at it in that context its incredible. He was born the poor son of a farm laborer and rose to create one of the most fascinating movements in world history. He was a rough stone to be sure, but I personally have come to deeply believe that he was genuine (even if at times mistaken) and that God was and behind the vision and work he started. My prayer is that I can continue faithful in my part in that work and that others everywhere will join in it.

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