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We are rightly proud of Joseph Smith.

The story of Joseph’s life is the story of a miracle. He was born in poverty. He was reared in adversity. He was driven from place to place, falsely accused, and illegally imprisoned. He was murdered at the age of thirty-eight. Yet in the brief space of twenty years preceding his death he accomplished what none other has accomplished in an entire lifetime. He translated and published the Book of Mormon, a volume of 522 pages which has since been retranslated into more than a score of languages and which is accepted by millions across the earth as the word of God. The revelations he received and other writings he produced are likewise scripture to these millions. The total in book pages constitutes the equivalent of almost the entire Old Testament of the Bible, and it all came through one man in the space of a few years.

In this same period he established an organization which for almost a century and a half has withstood every adversity and challenge, and is as effective today in governing a worldwide membership of more than three and a half million as it was 145 years ago in governing a membership of three thousand. There are those doubters who have strained to explain this remarkable organization as the product of the times in which he lived. That organization, I submit, was as peculiar, as unique, and as remarkable then as it is today. It was not a product of the times. It came as a revelation from God.

Joseph Smith’s vision of man’s immortal nature reached from an existence before birth to the eternities beyond the grave. He taught that salvation is universal in that all men will become the beneficiaries of the resurrection through the atonement wrought by the Savior. But beyond this gift is the requirement of obedience to the principles of the gospel and the promise of consequent happiness in this life and exaltation in the life to come.

Nor was the gospel he taught limited in application to those of his own and future generations. The mind of Joseph Smith, tutored by the God of heaven, encompassed all mankind of all generations. Both the living and the dead must have the opportunity to partake of gospel ordinances.

. . .

Within the space of that twenty years preceding his death, Joseph Smith set in motion a program for carrying the gospel to the nations of the earth. I marvel at the boldness with which he moved. Even in the infant days of the Church, in times of dark adversity, men were called to leave homes and families, to cross the sea, to proclaim the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His mind, his vision encompassed the entire earth.

Seated in this hall today are those from North, Central, and South America; from the British Isles and Africa; from the nations of Europe; from the islands and continents of the Pacific; and from the ancient lands of Asia. You who have come from far and near, you are the flowering of the vision of Joseph Smith, the prophet of God. He was indeed a mighty seer, who saw this day and greater days yet to come as the work of the Lord moves over the earth.

thus President Hinckley

Me and mine are the sons of one of those converts of Brother Joseph’s mad audacity. His little frontier sect sent some homespun frontier apostles to the mightiest nation of the world, and a supervisor in a spinning mill, and one of his female workers, heard them preach and their hearts were touched by fire. They married. They buried themselves in the water and made great and terrible promises to God. They left their homes and scraped together enough funds to buy a huddled passage across the broad wilderness of the ocean. In a foreign land, they went to the rough edge of civilization just in time for the mobs to burn and chase them out of Nauvoo. Then they walked across the vast plains through the Indians and the rattlesnakes and fought to make a farm out of desolation out here in the great emptiness. They had been touched by fire.

The were not–or at least they became not to be–ordinary people. And certainly the same is Brother Joseph. What a man, for all his flaws. What a man.

Nature made me a pessimist, and where Nature left off, reading the signs of the times has completed the work. Our people are eating their social capital as fast as they can, and we are ruled by the wicked.

But here my pessimism fails me.

Because it only takes one Joseph. It only takes one man filled with the vision of God to overturn the world. Man is God’s greatest work, made in God’s very image, and the rare man who lives up to his fashioning is a power that shakes worlds.

It could be me. It could be one of you. It could be a child now growing. It could be all of us.

A few years ago in a young men’s meeting I decided to ask if anyone wanted to bear their testimonies. There was a long pause. No one did. Finally, one young man gave me an exasperated look and started to go through the usual Mormon litany. “IknowthatJesuslives . . .” But no sooner was that phrase out of his mouth then the fire of God was in the room. It was that sudden and that powerful. He started to cry. So did we. “The Spirit is here,” I said, and then we ended the meeting. Good.

Around that time it came to light that the young man was living in grave sin. I was not his Bishop or his parents, so I was not involved in the details. In the ordinary course of things, I would not have even known. But the sins were serious enough and multiple enough that they felt they needed to make me aware at least of the general situation. They told me it was a struggle. He was neither fully penitent nor fully desirous to be penitent.

He graduated from the young men’s program and I moved away.

Just a few months ago, I was back in that ward visiting. His parents’ sought me out. “Our son wanted you to know,” they said, that he was serving a mission. He had baptized his girlfriend and she was serving a mission also. And he had felt something happened to him in the young men’s program, so he wanted me to know.

It could be him. It could be someone else. The point is that little eruptions like that keep happening, and neither the devil nor all his airy or earthly princes can stop it.

Other Posts from the Sunday afternoon session of the April 1977 General Conference

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