Today, I read American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church which is written by Alex Beam and non-Mormon writer. It was a competent history of the martyrdom (and a somewhat more flawed account of early Church history) and a highly enjoyable read.
As I put the book down, the spirit strongly confirmed to me once again that Joseph Smith truly was Prophet of God. Although he was imperfect and deeply flawed, he was an instrument in the hands of God for the restoration of his Church and many many doctrines vital for our salvation and exaltation.
I was reminded of Elder Anderson’s masterful talk on the Prophet from General Conference. Elder Anderson recounted the prophecy that Joseph Smith’s name would be known for both good and ill across the world, and warned that “The negative commentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith will increase as we move toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The half-truths and subtle deceptions will not diminish.” While Beam’s book was not what I would categorize as negative commentary (indeed, for a history written by a non-member it was mostly quite fair), I was reminded as I read how important it is to have a firm testimony of the restoration when reading of the history of the early church. Without that firm foundation, it would be easy to allow small imperfections to grow and to distort the magnificent fruit of the restoration.
Elder Anderson emphasized that “Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.” This is a moral imperative for each of us. No matter how strong we think out testimony is, we should continually seek to strengthen or testimony of the savior, the restoration, and the Prophet Joseph Smith.
I also loved Elder Anderson’s depiction of the process of acquiring that vital testimony:
“A testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith can come differently to each of us. It may come as you kneel in prayer, asking God to confirm that he was a true prophet. It may come as you read the Prophet’s account of the First Vision. A testimony may distill upon your soul as you read the Book of Mormon again and again. It may come as you bear your own testimony of the Prophet or as you stand in the temple and realize that through Joseph Smith the holy sealing power was restored to the earth. With faith and real intent, your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith will strengthen. The constant water balloon volleys from the sidelines may occasionally get you wet, but they need never, never extinguish your burning fire of faith.”
I remember how I first acquired a witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his divine mission. Soon after I first gained a witness of the truth of the Church, my ward had a camp out at the Joseph Smith birthplace in Shanon, Vermont. As we camped out there, I reflected on the stories I had heard of Joseph Smith and was filled with a sweet confirming spirit. I knew then, and know now that Joseph Smith was truly called of God. Over the years, I have sough to strengthen my witness of that truth through personal study and prayer. In the Sacred Grove in Palmyra for instance, I felt especially strongly that Joseph had truly seen the Father and the Son. Like Elder Anderson suggests, my testimony has also been strengthened through reading the Book of Mormon again and again.
If your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith has weakened due to critical accounts of his life, I urge you to follow Elder Anderson’s advice and go straight to the source of all truth. If you diligently seek it, God will distill upon your soul truth from on high. As Elder Anderson mentions, your burning fire of faith will be inextinguishable.