RS/MP Lesson 47: “‘Praise to the Man’: Latter-day Prophets Bear Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Joseph Smith Manual)
Posted by joespencer on November 21, 2009
The last lesson in the manual, particularly because it records the words of everyone but Joseph Smith, more or less speaks for itself. It is worth saying, though, that it functions as a kind of compendium of all the major “uses” to which we put Joseph Smith as Latter-day Saints, from “Joseph the foreordained” (section one of the “Testimonies” half of the lesson) through “the Joseph Smith of the First Vision” (section two) and “Joseph Smith the structurally incapable of having done what he did” (section three) and “Joseph the prophetically unique” (section four) to “Joseph Smith as a global figure of importance” (section five). Because I’m not particularly keen on finishing off this whole series of lesson notes (two years!) with a critical reflection on our own reception of Joseph Smith, I’ll end instead with my own testimony, for whatever it’s worth.
Joseph Smith fascinates and bewilders me. I find his writings and his teachings infinitely fascinating, immensely instructive, and theologically rich. I love his life, and especially his own, always-changing interpretation of his own experiences. I am enthralled by the translations and revelations he left us—even the non-canonical works like the (original manuscripts of the) New Translation, etc. I am particularly moved by his expansive “Nauvoo theology,” by its implicit and explicit angelology, doctrine of keys, notion of deification, way of conceiving of the divine council, implications in terms of the unique role of Adam, and so on. I feel a kinship with Joseph in terms of his love of learning, his bewitchment by ancient languages, his willingness to venture into the unexplored. And I find myself wishing that I could have walked with him and Zion’s Camp to Missouri, that I could have strolled through New York City with him during his first visit there, that I could have sat in the crowds in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., after he had escaped from prison, that I could have listened to him preach in the Kirtland Temple, that I could have pulled sticks with him in Nauvoo, that I could have sat at table with him in Zion, that I could have wept with him over the difficulties polygamy introduced into the otherwise happy climate of Nauvoo, that I could have laid by his side in prison, and so on and so on.
I love Joseph Smith. And I love what he’s left us. I believe without reserve that he held and holds the keys of the last dispensation, that his teachings were and are true, that the scriptures he left us should be our bread and our butter every day. I hope and give myself to the hope that his visions and revelations and teachings will yet revolutionized the whole world as he hoped they would. And I want, in whatever charity God grants me, to see absolutely everyone have a chance to learn of Joseph’s works and teachings, of the keys and revelations he received.
The work, I believe, is true.