Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.”2 Brethren, the exciting developments of today are part of that long-foretold period of preparation that will culminate in the glorious Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is one of the most remarkable periods of the world’s history! Ancient prophets yearned to see our day. When our time in mortality is complete, what experiences will we be able to share about our own contribution to this significant period of our lives and to the furthering of the Lord’s work? Will we be able to say that we rolled up our sleeves and labored with all our heart, might, mind, and strength? Or will we have to admit that our role was mostly that of an observer? I suppose there are a variety of reasons why it is easy to become a bit sleepy with regard to building the kingdom of God. Let me mention three major ones. As I do, I invite you to ponder if any might apply. If you see room for improvement, I ask you to consider what could be done to change for the better.
Although a boy fourteen years of age, he went into the woods near his home, into one of God’s first temples, bowed down upon the ground, and asked the Lord in his confusion, “Which of these churches shall I join?” I have no doubt he was surprised when the answer came to him, “Join none of them.” And then he was told that if he would obey the direction of our Heavenly Father, an important mission would be given for him to perform under divine direction. That was not the idea of a man who desired to deceive; it was the humble, simple faith of a boy. So he continued following the inspiration of the Lord. He continued carrying out the directions that were given to him by holy beings, the result of which was the uncovering in the Hill Cumorah of the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon, the history of the ancestors of the American Indians, was translated and published. Since then that book has been carried to the ends of the world, having been published in many languages. He was only a young man when that occurred. When the time came for its publication, he was ridiculed. People derided him and called him a money digger because he worked for a living and had to earn that living part of the time digging in the earth. But they didn’t look upon him as a servant of the Lord; neither did the majority of the people in the days of the Savior accept Jesus Christ of Nazareth as a servant of the Lord. The great majority rejected Christ and rejected each of his followers who became members of the quorum of the Twelve. Joseph Smith persisted in his work; and when the Book of Mormon was finally about to come from the press, after having been translated through the gift and power of God, for it was in a language unknown to him, the people in the neighborhood of Palmyra agreed that they would not buy it, thinking that they would thwart the bringing forth of the book. They supposed that their refusal to purchase it would make impossible the completion of its publication.
Christianity in its fulness and truth has been restored to the earth by direct revelation. The restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most significant fact since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What was restored? In a very real sense, the true Law of the Harvest was restored – the law of justice, the law of mercy, the law of love. It was restored in a free country under the influence of a God-inspired Constitution which created a climate of freedom, opportunity and prosperity. The basic virtues of thrift, self-reliance, independence, enterprise, diligence, integrity, morality, faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, were the principles upon which this, the greatest nation in the world, has been built. We must not sell this priceless, divine heritage which was largely paid for by the blood of patriots and prophets for a mess of pottage, for a counterfeit, a false doctrine parading under the cloak of love and compassion, of humanitarianism, even of Christianity.
I read again the other day Parley P. Pratt’s account of his reading the Book of Mormon and coming into the Church. Said he: “I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep. “As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists”. The gift of faith touched his life. He could not do enough to repay the Lord for what had come to him. He spent the remainder of his days in missionary service. He died a martyr to this great work and kingdom. . . .It was this mysterious and wonderful manifestation of faith that brought reassurance, that spoke with certainty, that came as a gift from God concerning this great latter-day work. As it was then, so it is today. This precious and marvelous gift of faith, this gift from God our Eternal Father, is still the strength of this work and the quiet vibrancy of its message. Faith underlies it all. Faith is the substance of it all. Whether it be going into the mission field, living the Word of Wisdom, paying one’s tithing, it is all the same. It is the faith within us that is evidenced in all we do.
Now, to anyone within the sound of my voice who has wondered regarding our Christianity, I bear this witness. I testify that Jesus Christ is the literal, living Son of our literal, living God. This Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer who, under the guidance of the Father, was the Creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are. I bear witness that He was born of a virgin mother, that in His lifetime He performed mighty miracles observed by legions of His disciples and by His enemies as well. I testify that He had power over death because He was divine but that He willingly subjected Himself to death for our sake because for a period of time He was also mortal. I declare that in His willing submission to death He took upon Himself the sins of the world, paying an infinite price for every sorrow and sickness, every heartache and unhappiness from Adam to the end of the world. In doing so He conquered both the grave physically and hell spiritually and set the human family free. I bear witness that He was literally resurrected from the tomb and, after ascending to His Father to complete the process of that Resurrection, He appeared, repeatedly, to hundreds of disciples in the Old World and in the New. I know He is the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah who will one day come again in final glory, to reign on earth as Lord of lords and King of kings. I know that there is no other name given under heaven whereby a man can be saved and that only by relying wholly upon His merits, mercy, and everlasting grace can we gain eternal life. My additional testimony regarding this resplendent doctrine is that in preparation for His millennial latter-day reign, Jesus has already come, more than once, in embodied majestic glory. In the spring of 1820, a 14-year-old boy, confused by many of these very doctrines that still confuse much of Christendom, went into a grove of trees to pray. In answer to that earnest prayer offered at such a tender age, the Father and the Son appeared as embodied, glorified beings to the boy prophet Joseph Smith. That day marked the beginning of the return of the true, New Testament gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the restoration of other prophetic truths offered from Adam down to the present day.
With this falling away, priesthood keys were lost, and some precious doctrines of the Church organized by the Savior were changed. Among these were baptism by immersion; receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; the nature of the Godhead—that They are three distinct personages; all mankind will be resurrected through the Atonement of Christ, “both … the just and the unjust”; continuous revelation—that the heavens are not closed; and temple work for the living and the dead. The period that followed came to be known as the Dark Ages. This falling away was foreseen by the Apostle Peter, who declared that “heaven must receive [Jesus Christ] until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” Restitution would only be necessary if these precious things had been lost. In the centuries that followed, religious men came to recognize that there had been a gradual falling away from the Church organized by Jesus Christ. Some of them suffered greatly for their beliefs, in what came to be called the Reformation, a sixteenth-century movement that aimed at reforming Western Christianity. This resulted in the separation of the Protestant churches from the main Christian church. Among these reformers was the Reverend John Lathrop, vicar of the Egerton Church in Kent, England. Incidentally, the Prophet Joseph Smith was descended from John Lathrop. In 1623 the Reverend Lathrop resigned his position because he questioned the authority of the Anglican church to act in the name of God. As he read the Bible, he recognized that apostolic keys were not on the earth. In 1632 he became the minister of an illegal independent church and was put in prison. His wife died while he was in prison, and his orphaned children pleaded with the bishop for his release. The bishop agreed to release Lathrop on condition that he leave the country. This he did, and with 32 members of his congregation he sailed to America. Roger Williams, a seventeenth-century pastor who founded Rhode Island, refused to continue as pastor in Providence on the grounds that there was “no regularly-constituted Church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance; nor could there be, until new apostles were sent by the great Head of the Church, for whose coming he was seeking.” These are but two of the religious scholars who recognized an apostasy from the Church organized by Jesus Christ and the need for a restoration of the priesthood keys that had been lost. The Apostle John saw in vision the time when “another angel [would] fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” This prophecy has been fulfilled. Because we believe the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in our time by the Prophet Joseph Smith, we wish to give all people an opportunity to know and accept this message.
As I sit here looking at the faces of the men and women that I know here, and I can see people here from all over it came into my mind to ask the question: How many of you have filled a two-year or longer mission during your lifetime? Raise your hands. Thank you very much. This is a missionary Church. Sometimes people might think, from the way we refer to finance, that we are a bank, but we are not. Think of the buildings that are on this block, every one of them built many years ago. This tabernacle and the temple were built in the very poverty of our people when they were trying to make homes here in the valleys of these mountains. But the Lord said, “Seek ye first,”-not last-”. . . seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” When I travel, as I have, approximately a million miles in the world, in many nations and places in the world, and come back here, I do not know of any place where people have more comforts and blessings than we do right here in this place that 103 years ago was a desert land, with only one tree growing in this valley. My grandfather came with the first company of pioneers. There were 143 men, three women, and two children. After he had been here for five or six years, one of his non Mormon friends asked him, “President Smith, why did you leave Nauvoo and all that fine country back there in New York and Missouri and come out to this God-forsaken land?” The reply of my grandfather was, “Why, we came here willingly, because we had to.” In other words, the people, about twenty thousand of them, when they were expelled from Illinois, had their choice. They could have stayed there and lived with so-called Christians (I want to emphasize that), or they could leave and come out here and live with the Indians. That was their choice. They preferred the Indians. Now that was not because our people did not believe in Christianity. I know of no people in the world who believe as firmly in the divine mission of Jesus Christ as do the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Restoration did not come all at once. In a series of visitations, other prophets came to restore the keys of the priesthood. With the authority restored, the organization was revealed. Apostles were ordained, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency were organized as they had been anciently. The ordinances were revealed and authority given to perform them. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ was translated and published. In it is “the fulness of [the] everlasting gospel.” Other revelations were published—the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. From those books of scripture, we learned why the earth was created and who created it. There was opened to the early leaders of the Church the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the standards He requires of His disciples. We learned about the plan of redemption—“the great plan of happiness.” We came to earth to be tested and to gain experience, with a promise that “through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”Before we came into mortal life, we lived as spirit children of our Father in Heaven. “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each [of you] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, [you have] a divine nature and destiny. Gender [male and female] is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” The great plan of happiness enable family relationships to last beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants, available only in the temple, make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally. Marriage, the family, and the home are the foundation of the Church. Nothing is more important to the Church and to civilization itself than the family! For some all is not complete in mortal life, for marriage and a family of their own have passed them by. But the great plan of happiness and the laws which govern it continue after death. Watched over by a kind and loving Heavenly Father, they will not, in the eternal pattern of things, be denied blessings necessary for their exaltation, including marriage and family. And it will be sweeter still because of the waiting and the longing.
I take you back 184 years to the year 1823. The month was September—the night of September 21–22, to be exact.The boy Joseph Smith had prayed that night before going to sleep. He asked the Lord for forgiveness of his light-mindedness. A miraculous thing then happened. He says:“While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside. … “He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God … and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” The boy must have been stunned by what he heard. In the eyes of those who knew him, he was simply a poor, unlearned farm boy. He had no wealth. His neighbors were in the same condition. His parents were struggling farmers. The area where they lived was rural and largely unknown. They were simply ordinary people trying to survive through hard work. And yet an angel of God said that Joseph’s “name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues.” How could it be? That description fits the entire world. Now, as we look back 177 years to the organization of the Church, we marvel at what has already happened. When the Church was organized in 1830 there were but six members, only a handful of believers, all residing in a largely unknown village. Today, we have become the fourth or fifth largest church in North America, with congregations in every city of any consequence. Stakes of Zion today flourish in every state of the United States, in every province of Canada, in every state of Mexico, in every nation of Central America and throughout South America. Congregations are found throughout the British Isles and Europe, where thousands have joined the Church through the years. This work has reached out to the Baltic nations and on down through Bulgaria and Albania and other areas of that part of the world. It reaches across the vast area of Russia. It reaches up into Mongolia and all down through the nations of Asia into the islands of the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand, and into India and Indonesia. It is flourishing in many of the nations of Africa. Our general conferences are carried by satellite and other means in 92 different languages. And this is only the beginning. This work will continue to grow and prosper and move across the earth. It must do so if Moroni’s promise to Joseph is to be fulfilled. This work is unique and wonderful. It is fundamentally different from every other body of religious doctrine of which I know.
We have seen today a demonstration that this is the true and living Church. The keys of the priesthood are held by mortals, but the way has been prepared by the Lord for the keys to remain functioning on the earth so long as the people exercise faith both that the keys are on the earth and that they have been passed on by the will of God to His chosen servants. God’s people have not always been worthy of the marvelous experience we have shared today. The Apostles, after the Ascension of Christ, continued to exercise the keys He left with them. But because of disobedience and loss of faith by the members, the Apostles died without the keys being passed on to successors. We call that tragic episode “the Apostasy.” Had the members of the Church in those days had the opportunity and the will to exercise faith as you have today, the Lord would not have taken the keys of the priesthood from the earth. So this is a day of historical significance and of eternal importance in the history of the world and to the children of our Heavenly Father. Now our obligation is to remain worthy of the faith necessary for us to fulfill our promise to sustain those who have been called. The Lord was well pleased with the Church at the beginning of the Restoration, as He is today. But He cautioned the members then, as He does now, that He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. For us to sustain those who have been called today, we must examine our lives, repent as necessary, pledge to keep the Lord’s commandments, and follow His servants. The Lord warns us that if we do not do those things, the Holy Ghost will be withdrawn, we will lose the light which we have received, and we will not be able to keep the pledge we have made today to sustain the Lord’s servants in His true Church.
John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, wrote Joseph Smith in 1842 to request information about the Church for a friend who was writing a history of New Hampshire. The “Wentworth Letter” was written by the Prophet Joseph Smith in response to this inquiry. The letter contains a brief History of the Church to 1842, including the key events in the restoration of the gospel. It states that the purpose of the Church is to take the gospel to every nation and prepare a people for the Millennium. The letter also describes concisely the origin, contents, and translation of the Book of Mormon. It concludes with thirteen doctrinal statements that have since become known as the Articles of Faith and are published in the Pearl of Great Price. The contents of this letter were published March 1, 1842, in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons. There is no evidence that Wentworth or his friend, George Barstow, ever published it. In response to other inquiries in 1844, Joseph Smith sent revised copies of this letter to several publishers of works about various churches and religious groups. It has been published several times over the years. . . At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, Editor, and Proprietor of the “Chicago Democrat,” I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-Day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. Mr. Wentworth says, that he wishes to furnish Mr.Bastow, a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands is that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.