Collect: We thank thee, O God, for the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr., who opened the heavens with his simple faith, and opens our minds that we should do likewise. Grant us, therefore, grace in Christ, that we may ask of thee, seek, and knock, as Joseph did, in faith believing that we may receive through the liberality of thy Holy Spirit, Amen.
Late in the afternoon on this date, exactly 170 years ago, a mob stormed the second story chamber of the small jail at Carthage, Illinois, and killed Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his older brother Hyrum. John Taylor, who was also present and wounded in the attack, eulogized him in print shortly afterwards:
“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people” (D&C 135:3).
Not specifically mentioned by Taylor, but significant for his initial and startling claim, were Joseph’s revelations about providing vicarious saving ordinances for those who had died without an opportunity to receive them in life. Joseph’s teaching that every member of the human family would receive a formal invitation into the kingdom of Heaven and that all but the most resistant would eventually gain a measure of salvation were among his greatest prophetic achievements. His theology, many have suggested, goes farther toward answering quandaries about God’s justice and mercy than anything before it. But perhaps his most remarkable insight was his earliest and in some ways least original: that a flawed and limited human being—anyone who lacked wisdom, like himself—could boldly approach the throne of grace, ask of God, and receive.
By now the story has been told countless times the world over of how, as a young man, Joseph Smith became concerned for the welfare of his immortal soul and sought God in a grove of trees near his home in upstate New York in the spring of 1820. The various accounts of what happened that day teach us that history, like our humanity itself, is fractured and messy, but that it may also connect to something sublime, be redeemed, and become redeeming. As a result of his remarkable vision, Joseph Smith dared to speak in the name of the Lord and to write in the voice of God. “Ask, and ye shall receive,” he said, “knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” His legacy is the result of his having done so, and his life is a challenge us to go and do likewise.
Additional Resources: Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made available the earliest documentary accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision through its Joseph Smith Papers website. Here are links to firsthand and reported accounts of the first vision, as well as to short videos about the firsthand and reported accounts.