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Brother Joseph

By Catherine Arveseth

A few Sundays ago, I sat at the back of the chapel, twisting in my seat, wondering if I should bear my testimony. For several months I’d felt a stirring to testify of Joseph Smith. But every month, as testimony meeting rolled around, I had an excuse. I wasn’t feeling well, my voice sounded raspy, surely what others had to say was more important.

Unable, however, to deny the prompting any longer, I stood and walked to the front of the chapel. I expressed my love for our wonderful ward then I testified of Joseph. Just Joseph.

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I served a full-time mission in Illinois and Iowa, with special assignment to the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center. Every time I stood next to the bust of Joseph and told the story of the First Vision, my heart would kindle with knowing. I would repeat his words from memory, and something would pass between me and the hearer. God’s spirit would sweep over us, our eyes would meet, and I could not look away.

I saw a pillar of light, exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Joseph’s words could quiet the room.

Many nights, after the Visitors’ Center closed, our group of six sisters would ride bikes back to our little house on Main, change our clothes, and take to the pavement. We would walk the streets of Nauvoo. Past the prairie grass thick with fireflies, down Kimball, then all the way to the end of Parley, to feel the cool breath of the river. Eventually we would make our way up Water Street and back to Main, where we would pause at the Mansion House, lean against the white picket fence, and talk of Joseph.

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We were encouraged, not just allowed, to read anything in the Lands and Records Office. So we would spend lunch breaks there, asking for journals or personal histories of individuals we found interesting. Real people we wanted to know about. Then we would share what we learned on our walks. Every personal history spoke of Joseph, how he served, what he taught, how he loved. And night after night, our testimonies of Joseph expanded. So much that I began to feel a kinship with him, a closeness almost like family. I knew things I hadn’t known before about his life, his character, the challenges he faced.

I knew how Emma felt about plural marriage, how difficult it was for her. I knew about each baby they lost, how John Murdock asked if they would adopt his twins, only to lose one of them from exposure the night Joseph was dragged from his house and tarred and feathered. I learned the stories behind a number of Joseph’s trusted companions who turned against him, so viciously they would plot to take his life.

One evening, while walking down Parley Street, I thought to myself, I can never turn my back on Joseph. Never. Not after what I know.

And yet, as I wavered in my seat that Fast Sunday, I realized, I could not remember the last time someone (myself included) had testified of Joseph from the pulpit.

Is it possible we are afraid? Is it possible we have forgotten his sacrifice?

In the early days of the church, after the martyrdom, only those who had personally known Joseph stood to bear testimony. Obviously, this was a cultural development, not doctrinal, but it happened. Until most who knew Joseph had passed on. (Susan Easton Black, Firesides in Nauvoo, 1995).

Startling contrast. I even asked my husband if he thought I had offended some with my testimony. Had I been perceived as simple-minded, unintelligent or uninformed? I didn’t know.

Concerns over Joseph’s history and character are not new. Yet rumblings of late are louder than I remember. I know Joseph made mistakes. (Haven’t we all?) And still, God used Joseph as an instrument to accomplish his work. Of this I have no doubt.

Russell M. Nelson said, “The Lord uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible.”

That was Joseph. Unlikely, uneducated, untainted. God, knowing a successful restoration was imperative to the divine plan, chose Joseph. Not just at age 14, but every step of the way.

How can we judge a man who literally held the world on his shoulders? We cannot fully understand the context of his life, the newness of all he was learning, the questions he must have had. He too had concerns. He took unimaginable leaps into darkness. He knew sorrow, struggle, heartache, and aloneness in ways most of us never will.

Moroni prophesied his name would be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds and people (JSH 1:33). I just never thought it would be among our people.

So I have a challenge for those of us who call ourselves Latter-day Saints. That we revisit our testimonies of Joseph. That we read his history and the book he translated. We must be willing to wrestle with difficult questions. And by wrestle, I mean consider our questions good. Consider them an opportunity for personal revelation, not a threat to our faith.

Last Saturday Sheri Dew spoke to the women of our stake and taught that spiritual wrestling leads to knowledge and revelation. That, she said, is a powerful combination. Only a witness from the Holy Ghost can counteract any logic or intellectualism that has cut away at our faith. “The only way to know Joseph was a prophet is by the Spirit,” she stated. “That is the only way.”

Sister Dew also quoted Elder Quentin L. Cook who recently expressed concern that we do not hear testimony of Joseph enough.

And so. I wanted to add my witness here.

That I know Joseph was God’s prophet.

He is more than a name in history to me. He is my brother. And when I use that term, I do it with great affection. I believe Joseph knows those who know him. And when we speak good of him, honor him, we can feel a connection to him that is powerful and sustaining.

Jesus himself said in Section 136,

[Be] faithful in keeping the words given you from…Joseph Smith, whom I did call upon by mine angels… and by mine own voice out of the heavens, to bring forth  my work; which foundation he did lay, and was faithful; and I took him to myself (DC 136:37-38.)

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A new fire has flared in my heart for Joseph these last few weeks. I have drawn courage from his commitment, strength from his brave pursuit of an almost impossible path, and light from his interactions with the Father and Son.

Let the naysayers say what they will about Joseph, but I will defend him. All my days.

How has the Spirit witnessed to you of Joseph’s divine role?  And do you agree? Have we become afraid to say what we believe about Joseph? How can we make wrestling with questions a door to revelation rather than doubt?

Sketch of Joseph Smith by Annie Henrie Nader

About Catherine Arveseth

Catherine Arveseth is mother to five children, including two sets of twins. She is an exercise physiologist by profession, writer by passion, loves hiking with her family, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the edge of an ocean. She and her husband, Doug, began their family in Virginia but now live in Salt Lake City, Utah. She blogs at wildnprecious.com.

50 thoughts on “Brother Joseph”

  1. Thank you, Catherine, for sharing your beautiful testimony of our Prophet Joseph! I am so grateful for him, for his tireless efforts in doing the Lord's work and for the fruits of those efforts which I am blessed enjoy each day. I know he was the Lord's chosen servant to bring forth this great work!

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  2. Our ward campout is at Camp Joseph every summer in Sharon, VT. To quote one of my friends, "it's a little slice of heaven". It's a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL spot. I love being there and it's a wonderful tradition for our ward.

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  3. Catherine, thank you. I am grateful for Joseph Smith and for the Restoration. I am grateful for the Book of Mormon, for the temple, for the Priesthood, for the many many blessings I have in my life because of Joseph Smith and his work. And I am grateful to be reminded of them in this post.

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  4. Loved this reminder and testimony. Thought of a story from my ancestry, where pioneer Thomas Grover (one of Joseph's bodyguards who died in 1886) felt that too: "All during his later years Thomas seemed to feel that his special mission was to testify to the divine mission of Joseph Smith. The last Sunday of his life, Thomas attended Sacrament Meeting, and after the last Amen when people were about to leave, Thomas suddenly raised his hand and said, 'Wait a minute, Bishop.' He said he could not go home until he had born testimony that the gospel was true and Joseph Smith was a true prophet."

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  5. Thank you, thank you. I have a tendency to shy away from questioning or reading much about Joseph, probably out of fear, even though I feel the truthfulness of testimonies of him EVERY time I hear them. This is a beautiful reminder to have courage, to question, and to faithfully seek.

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  6. Thanks, Catherine! That's a good representation of how I have felt too lately. It is hard to see such a good man, and a brilliant prophet, be so misunderstood, misrepresented, misquoted and mistreated. But I think it makes me love him all the more. He is like me, in that he was human and made mistakes. Better than me though, he allowed God to mentor him and teach him what he needed to know and do. He completed the work he was supposed to do, and eventually it will be understood by God's children that it is time to stop persecuting him and instead honor him for who he really is.

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  7. Thank you for this.
    It is amazing how the spirit can whisper the truth of your words to me while I was reading your blog post and the comments.

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  8. This is so powerful. I loved reading about your mission experiences. Thank you so much for this, Cath.

    When I was giving a Relief Society lesson last year on Joseph Smith, the Spirit helped me to see for a moment that everything truly good in my life bore the signature of Joseph Smith. My beliefs in marriage and family. The priesthood. The Word of Wisdom. The Gift of the Holy Ghost. A fuller knowledge of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Scriptures and words of prophets. The path of my life has been continually directed and shaped by the teachings and revelations of the Prophet Joseph. So much would be missing in my life without the Gospel he restored. There is peace found in his teachings. There is power found in the words he revealed, power to find truth and power to overcome evil.

    Thank you again and again. Much love

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  9. This post gave me goosebumps several times. Like you, I have a testimony of Joseph that is unshakeable. I cannot, and will not ever deny the witness I've received countless times. Whenever I begin to have doubts I always reflect back on The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith.

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  10. I don't testify of Joseph Smith's call from God to be a prophet unless there is a specific need in a conversation I'm in.
    Why? Because, though I have received a witness that he was called to his prophetic mission, even more than that I know of his testimony of Christ. And I think that any prophet of God, especially including him, would wish that that testimony be the most important, vital, essential, clearest, most undeniable message they would wish God's children to understand.
    And so my public testimonies are generally, in personal terms and specifics, of Jesus Christ.

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  11. You really don't know how Emma felt about polygamy if you think she was ok with it. I suggest you read the official church essays about his behavior and then justify it some more. lds.org/topics.

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  12. My testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet grew by leaps and bounds the year I taught Doctrine and Covenants in Seminary. The Doctrine and Covenants is absolutely amazing, and I have such an immense respect and reverence for Joseph Smith. Emma too, she was an amazing woman as well.

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  13. My great Grandfather had a great relationship with the prophet Joseph and Emma their families were close and they spent a lot of time together I love the smith family a lot they are such great role models to follow and their example and their legacy still lives on today

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  14. Catherine,

    Thank you. I taught a 90 min lesson on the ninth article of faith this morning. As I have read and studied the Scriptures, McConkie and Talmage these last few weeks, my Spirit has been deeply touched by the things I have been reminded of, and seldom think of. The Prophet Joseph was either a prophet or he wasn't. And when I read the Book of Mormon, I know that he was a prophet….I am so grateful for this great man, for all he bore and the powerful legacy and words and truth he left behind.

    I know we'll get answers to the questions some day…for now I am content to be filled with gratitude for the truth I have, because he was chosen and fulfilled his mission.

    Love the photo of the statues overlooking the river!

    Thanks so much for this post!

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  15. Riddick, I think you must have misread my statement in this post – that I knew after much reading about Emma (and journals from other wives of Joseph) that plural marriage was difficult for Emma. That is what I say above; not that she was okay with it. Originally I had written in this piece how painful it was for Emma, that it nearly drove them apart. But I tempered that line because I did not want readers to hyper-focus on the issue of plural marriage. Which is not what this piece is about. I have read the church's essay on plural marriage multiple times. I am well aware of its content. I appreciate the church's honesty, as well as the admission that there is much we do not know, as many of these relationships were so private. From what I have read in personal histories, Emma experienced contradicting feelings with regard to the revelation of celestial or plural marriage. Some journals explain her struggle followed by acceptance. Particularly with respect to four of Joseph's wives. Just last night I was re-reading Eliza R. Snow's public statement about being sealed to Joseph and her criticism of Emma who, according to Emma's son (Joseph), quoted his mother as saying her husband never participated in or condoned plural marriage. Eliza refutes this, explaining in detail that Emma taught and encouraged Joseph's marriage to these four wives. (See Andrew Jensen's Historical Record 6:224 and Deseret News, October 22, 1879.)

    I will never judge Emma. I revere her as equal to Joseph. So much of their story was not written. And we cannot write it for them, assume, or fill in the gaps. I cannot even pretend to understand in full, the context and hardship of all they endured together. None of us can. This doctrine would be the greatest trial of faith for them and many others who were asked to practice it. But through prayer and revelation, many accepted it in their desire and effort to do God's will.

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  16. Jenni, I love the story of Shadrach Roundy using his cane and sheer presence to block the way of a group of men led by William Law who were trying to enter the Smith home. Wasn't he a large, tall man? With a fierce love for Joseph. A true friend to the prophet.

    I believe there is something to be said for posterity that come through lines who loved Joseph and defended him. I think we can feel it in our DNA, if that makes sense. Heber is my great-great-great grandfather. Maybe that connection contributes to some of the passion we feel in defending Joseph's work and his name. Thank you for sharing!

    Also, are you familiar with Elizabeth Roundy (maybe you know the relation – I believe she married Jared Roundy?) She was asked by Jane Manning to act as scribe for Jane's autobiography. She sat with Jane and wrote down Jane's verbal testimony and life sketch. Such a sweet act of friendship.

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  17. Anita, I absolutely loved this comment. And the story. So many were inspired I think with that feeling of a "special mission." We needed those individuals then. And I believe we need individuals like that now. Thank you for reading and adding your faith to Thomas'.

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  18. I understand. Just the other night I was googling for images of Joseph and came across a bunch of unsavory depictions of Joseph. My stomach plunged to my feet. There is reason to be wary. So much out there is unbecoming, untrue, and misleading. Scot and Maurine Proctor are currently working on a website they will launch this year called josephsmithcentral.com. Where they are cataloguing and posting the very best sources on Joseph. I can't wait for it to be ready, to be able to send people there for viable and good information. Thank you so much for your honesty.

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  19. Ryan, I agree! Heaven help me if the world scrutinizes my life and errors as we do Joseph's. And you're so right, Joseph remained teachable to the end, was tutored by Jesus himself and other divine messengers. In time, the world will see him for the essential role he played in this marvelous work.

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  20. Oh my goodness Anne Marie, your list is beautiful and so true. I hadn't thought of it in that detail, but you are so wise and so right. I love this especially, "There is power found in the words he revealed, power to find truth and power to overcome evil."

    And I must thank you for the wonderful book you sent, with such a kind and compassionate note. It has been quite the month or two. Yet, I am feeling the sunlight of this new chapter, and the promises of renewed health, which I am trusting in. You are a dear, dear friend. I wish I could hear your lessons, or serve with you in some capacity. You are a strong and radiant light!

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  21. MB, true. Every true prophet points us to Christ. And yes, that is exactly what they want to do and are expected to do. It is imperative that our testimonies be centered on him, as well as our gospel practice and living. I also believe that as members of Christ's restored church, a testimony of Joseph's validity as prophet, seer, and revelator is imperative. And we must declare it now and then to keep it vibrant and burning inside us. Thanks for your comment.

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  22. thank you for this information. I hadn't heard about it. And I L.O.V.E. your post, Catherine. They are always great, but this one is exceptional and timely and moving. Much needed. So my heartfelt gratitude to you for your faithful witness and eloquent way of expressing your experiences and testimony. Love, Blue

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  23. Kim, I love your faith and acceptance of what we know. Even if it isn't a full knowledge, you are right – it is enough. Another thing Sheri Dew said in that same meeting was that, "God has never told his people everything about everything." We are meant to rely on personal revelation again and again. Thank you for your testimony and insight. I too look forward someday to all the answers.

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  24. My dear Nauvoo sister, those nights are some of my best memories. I had very similar experiences while sharing the words of Joseph. Thank you for taking me back and allowing the Spirit to once again testify to me of his divine calling.

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  25. What a beautiful testimony. I too know and love him through study and the witness of the Holy Ghost. His great grandson married into my non-member side of my family – my Dads cousin. I also looked on Relative Finder and found I am personally related to him on my Moms side. How I love him and his sacrifices. We are in a YSA Ward and these kids are so worried about their struggles. I just bore my testimony a few months ago that they should read or reread Joseoh Smiths History by Lucy Mack. You are changed forever by studying his life. We need to testify more of all things.
    Thanks again

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  26. 18 years ago I attended a fireside that was a one act play of the life of Willard Richards, which was basically a look at Joseph through Willard's eyes. At the end, after the shooting in Carthage one of the guards asked him if he still thought Joseph was a prophet. Willard said "No, I don't think he was a prophet. I KNOW it." When he said that I felt the same. I had never felt/known something so strongly. Every part of me KNEW he was a prophet. It was the most real thing I had ever experienced in my life. I still know it is true.

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  27. Ana,

    What a beautiful memory that speaks great truth that touches my soul!

    Thank you…and thank you Catherine for elicting this conversation!

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  28. Catherine, this is amazing. Thank you for your testimony. It is an inspiration to us all. You are amazing and talented! Thank you for sharing.

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  29. I have been a member my whole life but wasn't married and sealed in the temple until last November. I am 46 years old. For years I struggled with questions about Joseph until I sat in the celestial room of the SLC temple across from the stained glass window of him in the grove. The Spirit bore witness to me of Joseph's efforts on earth and I felt in that moment that even Joseph was aware of my questions and that HE also cared about my thirst for knowledge. Since that time I have read books about him, Emma and his mother, Lucy. I have learned that my testimony of him was and is up to me! I sought answers and now have NO doubts about who he was.

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  30. "I know Joseph made mistakes. (Haven’t we all?)"

    So, was Helen Marr Kimball a "mistake"?

    How about the Kinderhook plates?

    Saying that Abraham had written "by his own hand" upon the Egyptian papyrus that he "translated" the Pearl of Great Price from which turns out to be only an ordinary funerary scroll- was this just a mistake?

    Cheating people out of their money in the Kirtland banking scandal- just a "mistake"?

    Was it a mistake to claim that an angel with a flaming sword threatened his life if he didn't take other wives concurrent with Emma? Was he still untainted afterwards?

    Was he just making mistakes when he told multiple, very different versions of his "First Vision"?

    Are the anachronisms in the Book of Mormon Josephs's mistakes or someone else's?

    Was he still "untainted" after he was brought to trial and then confessed to misleading people into thinking he could find buried treasure for them?

    It's easy to say that the holy spirit is the only way to know the truth but, is there a chance that you're just using the holy spirit as a metaphor for your own desire to have your motivated, emotional reasoning take precedence over the hard cold truth?

    Have you seen the documentary about the FLDS church and Warren Jeffs? It's called "Prophet's Prey."

    I have. I highly recommend it.

    It's hard for me to understand how these people can place themselves under the yoke of someone like Warren Jeffs. But, they're doing exactly what you're doing. They're telling themselves that none of the evidence matters and that they can use their feelings (i.e. the Holy Spirit) as a way to know the truth.

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  31. You were not there when I received a witness of Joseph Smith. How do you know that I am confusing the Holy Spirit with my feelings?

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  32. With all due respect, (and, you probably won't believe me but, I do mean that) when all the actual evidence points to the contrary of what you think that the "Holy Spirit" has revealed to you it doesn't matter if I was there or not. I know that you are confusing your feelings with the "Holy Spirit" because I have examined the evidence and all the evidence points to one conclusion. Just as you don't like what the evidence indicates, neither did I. But, I finally had to be intellectually honest with myself despite what I had been taught to feel all my previous 24 years of existence.

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  33. Right back at you about respect but you are wrong. I am well acquainted with what it feels like to feel my own feelings as opposed to what the Holy Ghost feels like–they are quite different. I do not discount intellectualism but this particular experience was more than that. I KNOW Joseph smith was a prophet. I wish I could communicate better what I felt.

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  34. You bring up good questions for which we have no answers perhaps. We feel as passionate about the good he did as you feel about the huge mistakes you point out.

    Somehow the comparison with Warren Jeffs just doesn't resonate….No comparison.

    And following blindly….no…I am allowing the past to sit on the shelf….we'll know someday.

    But I can't deny all the good that exists today because of the Prophet Joseph. Nor can I accept that he or another man wrote the Book of Mormon. Truth emanates from every page.

    I am sorry that you can only see these big problems…and yes some of them are big. I hope you find some answers and resolution.

    And I'm sure that's not coming out in a way you can accept it. Just saying I hear you and wish you the best.

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  35. So this 'false' prophet was able to prophecy things that happened right up to the very end of his life. You can believe what you want about the 'truths" and evidence you know so much about. But in the end, you will have an eternity to wail about your bad decision to leave the church and then try and get others to apostatize away from the Truth too.
    I suppose all those people who knew him were all deceived. You never met the man, yet you base your decisions on the 'truths' of those who would have you believe he was a false prophet.

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  36. Russell, you might want to try getting your information from sources other than those you find on the internet–or from John Dehlin and the CES letter. I have read widely on every one of the questions you brought up, years ago in fact–long before there was an internet–and am perfectly satisfied that Joseph was a prophet of God. Not merely satisfied, convinced–both by the historical evidence (which I have often read from original sources, as, apparently, did the OP) and more importantly through the Spirit. I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and the Joseph Smith was his prophet. You are free to make your own choice, of course. That is what we are here for–to make that choice.

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  37. Dear Russell, while I could discuss each of the issues you noted above, as they have been circulated for some time as proof against Joseph as a prophet, I decline. We do not have, as I mentioned earlier, a full understanding of some of these. For others we do have considerable understanding and I count them a non-issue. But no one benefits from conversations like this when hearts are set against each other, and not inclined to hearing.

    This particular venue (Segullah), as it was decided by our staff, is not for bashing another's beliefs. It is for respectful discussion, honest questioning, with esteem for one another as we comment, listen, and learn. So I gently remind you, and all our readers, we wish to maintain such a tenor.

    With respect to the Warren Jeffs comparison, I am grateful Jesus has taught us a simple but powerful means for determining goodness and truth: In addition to the "fruits" or feelings that come from the Spirit like love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith… we can examine each "tree and its fruit."

    From Matthew 7: "Ye shall know them by their fruits… every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."

    I see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – that Joseph reestablished – to be such a powerful force for good in the world. Even if you did not accept its doctrine, you could not deny that its fruit is good. Despite anti-mormon efforts and criticism, it continues to grow and thrive and serve people around the world who have great need.

    I am grateful for your comment. I respect your concerns and position. There are tough questions out there, to which we do not always have answers. But I believe in the power of prayer and personal revelation when it comes to these things.

    Your comment has caused me once again to dig in my heels in defense of Joseph. You could prove to me that all those issues above were were evidence Joseph had erred and I would still believe he was a prophet. Because of The Book of Mormon, the Holy Ghost which witnesses with irrefutable power (power beyond our own), and the goodness (not perfectness) of this church and its members. There is light and great worth in all of us, despite our disagreements. I wish you the very best in your journey.

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  38. Ugh, why is it always men who feel like they need post comments to "educate" us dumb ladies about their intellectual discoveries. Intellectual discoveries that rarely go further than reading a bunch of stuff on the internet whose provenance is suspect at best.

    I am so glad that you have the courage to state what you know is true, Cath. There is a reason that Joseph Smith is under attack: without him our church has no footing. If you lose your testimony of Joseph then you can tidily throw away an entire religion as well as those pesky commandments that accompany it.

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  39. […] Brother Joseph.  I happened to read this article the same day I committed to teaching a Relief Society lesson on Joseph Smith in a couple weeks, and I’ve been ruminating on it ever since. “Concerns over Joseph’s history and character are not new. Yet rumblings of late are louder than I remember. I know Joseph made mistakes. (Haven’t we all?) And still, God used Joseph as an instrument to accomplish his work. Of this I have no doubt.” […]

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