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RS/MP Chapter 23: The Prophet Joseph Smith (Lorenzo Snow Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on December 7, 2013

RS/MP Chapter 23: The Prophet Joseph Smith (Lorenzo Snow Manual)

Here is a link to this week’s lesson. I will follow the sections as given in the manual.

From the life of Lorenzo Snow

Before reading the quote below, I’d be tempted to ask some questions about testimonies. How would you describe your testimony of Church leaders? How did you get a testimony of Church leaders? More specifically, do you have a testimony of the bishop? What is that testimony rooted in? One idea might be to try and “trap” class members to talk about experiences they’ve had with the bishop that help fortify their testimony. This, coupled with the quote below, could then set up a kind of tension that I see running throughout the lesson—namely, whether our testimony of Joseph Smith should be rooted in his goodness or his calling.

Although President Snow was impressed by the experiences he had with Joseph Smith, his testimony of the Prophet’s mission was not based on those experiences. He repeatedly declared that he had received his testimony from the Holy Ghost.

I think it’s significant that the lesson starts off by having Pres. Snow declare that he received a testimony of Joseph Smith being a prophet by the power of the Holy Ghost. There will be occasions in this lesson to talk about some of the admirable traits that Joseph Smith possessed, and surely this is related to his being a prophet. However, Joseph Smith was also human, and had weaknesses, and made mistakes. And if our testimony is to be built on a firm foundation, that won’t be rocked when others dig up examples of Joseph Smith’s weaknesses or mistakes, our testimony won’t be shaken. Pres. Snow’s declaration that he received his testimony from the Holy Ghost, and not from the experiences he had with Joseph Smith, is thus very important to keep in mind (esp. because at later points in the lesson, it seems that a case for Joseph Smith being a prophet is built upon anecdotes about Joseph’s admirable character traits).

Joseph Smith . . . was a pure, sincere, honest young man

From the first paragraph in this section:

Joseph Smith, whom God chose to establish this work, was poor and uneducated, and belonged to no popular denomination of Christians. He was a mere boy, honest, full of integrity, unacquainted with the trickery, cunning and sophistry employed by politicians and religious hypocrites, to accomplish their ends. . . .[B]ut God had called [Joseph, like Moses] to deliver the poor and honest-hearted of all nations from their spiritual and temporal thralldom [bondage].

Why did God call Joseph Smith as the prophet of the Restoration? Did Joseph have any particular traits that qualified him to this calling? Although the straightforward answer to this question might be that although Joseph did not have “worldly” qualifications, his honesty, integrity, and lack of guile qualified him. However, I think it’s important that callings are not earned in any straightforward sense. None of us are, on our own, worthy of the work we are called to do. Rather, God calls us to do something despite our weaknesses, and then God works with us, including our weaknesses, and then helps us in our weakness to do a work that is larger than us. On this point, it might be worth recounting how Moses was “slow of speech” (Exodus 4:10), but God helped Moses. So, again, Joseph had admirable traits, but he also had weaknesses which God in His power and grace was able to work with. We should recognize and celebrate both aspects of this partnership between God and Joseph, just as we should recognize and celebrate both accomplishments and weaknesses in ourselves and those around us.

I also like the last two paragraphs of this section, because I think they nicely exemplify this tension between Joseph’s humility and greatness. But I don’t have much else to say about those two paragraphs.

Joseph maintained his honesty and high moral character

At the end of the first paragraph of this section, we read:

There never was a man that possessed a higher degree of integrity and more devotedness to the interest of mankind than the Prophet Joseph Smith.

What was it, again, that qualified Joseph? If anything, it was his desire (“devotedness”), and an unadulterated desire (“integrity”). I find this very inspiring because integrity and devotedness are not talents or skills, as we normally think of them. Rather, they are traits that are, at least in a very important sense, equally accessible to everyone, and these traits are oftentimes more abundant in “the least among us.” I find it very inspiring that God called someone who was relatively humble and meek, especially in worldly terms, to bring about the Restoration. In the world we live in, emphasis is so often placed on values that are antithetical to humility and weakness. Do we value humility, weakness, integrity and devotedness as much as we should? Why or why not?

Joseph Smith could participate in innocent amusement

From the third paragraph in this section:

Joseph Smith was always natural and extremely calm, he never became confused or irritated by persons or things around him. Many ministers called upon him and endeavored to catch him when not upon his guard, doing something with which they might find fault, but when he was not in company his actions were always the same. He never was guilty of hypocrisy. He indulged in all healthful sports, and did not think it was unbecoming to play at ball, to run a foot race or to indulge in any other outdoor sports.

How did Joseph maintain calmness? What can we learn from his example? My own thinking here is with regard to how I let stress affect me, and how stress often makes my impatient and irritable, the very opposite of being a fun and playful father with my children. There’s something extremely admirable about this aspect of Joseph’s life that I find very difficult to articulate—a kind of easiness that is rooted in a kind of faithfulness, trust, and lack of guile that tends to characterize the people I admire and look up to the most in life. (The last paragraph of the next section also characterizes this aspect of Joseph Smith very nicely).

Joseph Smith increased in spiritual power and influence

From the first paragraph of this section:

Joseph Smith, the great prophet, was not an educated man when God chose him and made known to him his mission. The Lord bestows spiritual gifts and knowledge upon the unlearned, and the greatness of the kingdom is made known to them by the power of the Holy Ghost, and they gradually become great in the knowledge of the things of God.

According to this quote, how does God help us become great? I’ve already touched on the “not an educated man” part of this quote above, so what strikes me now from this quote is the “gradually become great” phrase in the last line of this quote. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the greatness of the kind of constant daily sacrifices that are made by parents (esp. mothers, if you’ll forgive the gender stereotyping…) who cheerfully (though sometimes not so cheerfully…) undergo the daily grind of changing diapers, wiping noses, fixing and cajoling kids to eat their vegetables, and stop hitting their siblings, and holding and hugging, and getting up in the night, and on and on and on. And the financial challenges, of budgeting, and working a job (or jobs) trying to make ends meet, and saving up for family vacations or schooling or Christmas. Of course non-parent disciples also perform analogous kinds of slow-and-steady kinds of service that don’t get recognized (even if I’m currently not coming up with good, specific examples of this non-parental kind of service…).

Each of us can gain a testimony

A question that might nicely set up the following quote might be as follows (I purposely start with a general form of the question, to give class members a chance to voice anything the Spirit might dictate, then I get a bit more specific to try and get the mental juices flowing before reading the quote): What can we learn from Joseph Smith’s exemplary life? What legacy did he leave? Is there take-home message we can garner from his First Vision experience? Does his example inspire us to do anything in particular?

From the penultimate paragraph in this section:

Joseph Smith was authorized to open up a channel and lay down a plan through which man could receive a knowledge of these things, so that we might not be left to depend upon the testimony of the Prophets, or the testimony of the ancient Apostles, or to the testimony of the Apostles of the present day, or to the Book of Mormon, or to anything that was done or said in the past, but that we might know for ourselves. It is an individual knowledge.

My thinking, in partial answer to the string of question I wrote out above, is that we should not be content with religious platitudes. We shouldn’t be content to just accept what we are told, without internalizing, engaging, sifting, seeking, searching, trying, experimenting, challenging, acknowledging, and humbling ourselves enough to ask for more. Of course this is the lesson of that Joseph took inspiration from in James 1:5-6, but in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith translated and left to us as legacy, we read repeated admonitions to seek and search, and to study and to ask, and to thirst for more knowledge and understanding—with a promise that if we do so faithfully and diligently, we will receive “the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God” (Alma 12:10).

One Response to “RS/MP Chapter 23: The Prophet Joseph Smith (Lorenzo Snow Manual)”

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