In 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith made the statement, "I understand my mission and business. God Almighty is my shield; and what can man do if God is my friend? I shall not be sacrificed until my time comes, then I shall be offered freely. All flesh is as grass, and a governor is no better than other men; when he dies he is but a bag of dust. I thank God for preserving me from my enemies; I have no enemies but for the truth's sake. I have no desire but to do all men good. I feel to pray for all men. We don't ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more. What if all the world should embrace this Gospel? They would then see eye to eye, and the blessings of God would be poured out upon the people, which is the desire of my whole soul" (History of the Church, 5:259).
While staying in the Liberty Jail during the cold winter of 1838-1839, Joseph wrote to his wife Emma, "God is my Friend; in him I shall find comfort. I have given my life into his hands. I am prepared to go at his call. I desire to be with Christ. I count not my life dear to me, only to do his will" (BYU Studies, Summer 1971, p. 520).
From the earliest days of the Church, the Prophet Joseph's greatest desire was to build the kingdom of God, to build Zion. He wanted to prepare his people for the when the Lord would come and dwell among "his people, and they [would dwell] in righteousness" (Moses 7:16). In December 1830, Joseph received the revelation known as Moses 7 where he learned of Enoch and his city of Zion. "And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them" (Moses 7:18).
The Prophet Joseph knew the way to preparing his people for Zion was to teach them to obey the first two commandments, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).
King Benjamin taught that it is only through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we are saved and that we must "repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them" (Mosiah 4:10). "And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you . . . And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due" (Mosiah 4:12-13).
King Benjamin also taught his people that "service of your fellow beings [is] service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17) and that obedience to the commandments of the Lord makes you happy, blesses you both temporally and spiritually, and prepares us to dwell "with God in a state of never-ending happiness" (Mosiah 2:41).
The Prophet Joseph wanted this life of happiness and peace for his people--he wanted them to live in Zion. He taught them, he encouraged them, he pleaded with them to learn, grow, and progress in their journey towards obedience and love for God and their fellowmen. He knew it would take great faith, hope, charity--and work. The Prophet Joseph, though imperfect himself, desired to teach his people through example.
Many people who knew the Prophet Joseph would describe his cheerful and friendly personality. William Taylor wrote, "I have never known the same joy and satisfaction in the companionship of any other person, man or women, that I felt with him, the man who had conversed with the Almighty. He was always the most companionable and loveable of men-cheerful and jovial" (Brother Joseph, p. 81).
"Once, while Joseph was delivering a sermon in someone's home, a little girl became tired and sleepy and began to cry. Joseph stopped speaking for a moment, sat down, and motioned for her to come to him. He held her on his lap, patted her, and she went to sleep while he completed his sermon" (Brother Joseph, p. 69-70).
After the opening of his store in Nauvoo, Joseph wrote a letter to Brother Edward Hunter on January 5, 1842, showing his humility and the love of his heart in these words: "The store has been filled to overflowing and I have stood behind the counter all day, distributing goods as steadily as any clerk you ever saw, to oblige those who were compelled to go without their Christmas and New Year's dinners for the want of a little sugar, molasses, raisins, etc.; and to please myself also, for I love to wait upon the Saints and to be a servant to all, hoping that I may be exalted in the due time of the Lord" (Brother Joseph, p. 131-132).
"The Prophet Joseph also taught young people the joy of serving others. Once, in Nauvoo, he and some young men were playing ball. When they began to get tired, he stopped the game, called them together, and said, 'Let's build a log cabin.' So off they went, Joseph and the young men, to build a log cabin for a widow" (Brother Joseph, p. 70).
On one occasion, Joseph declared, "Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 240).
I never tire of reading the inspired words or stories about the Prophet Joseph Smith. I once had an occasion to share my love for this great man to a group of primary children. As I started to share the story of his martyrdom at Carthage Jail, tears came to my eyes. Composing myself, I stated that what happened next was very sad, and I was able to share with them the events of that hot June day. The Spirit was very strong that day, and my testimony of his prophetic role was strengthened. Stories of Joseph's life are accompanied by a wonderful spirit of truth and testimony. I know through the power of the Spirit and by the example of his life that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of the Lord.
On another occasion, I shared with a group of young men and women stories from Joseph's life and once again the Spirit was strong and I became tearful as I talked about my love for this great man. I related that as a teenager, I found it difficult to identify with and be like a perfect person--Jesus Christ. Instead, I turned to an imperfect man, Joseph Smith, as an example, a hero, someone I could look up to. In turn, the teachings and example of this man led me to the source of his strength--Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith was able to complete his mission on earth because he knew who he was, understood his mission, and had God as his shield and friend. He had an eternal perspective of the purpose of life and with his whole soul he desired the same knowledge and blessings of God poured out upon all people. His life was filled with service and love for others and for the Lord. His life is an example of faith, hope, and charity. By listening to the Spirit, he put off the natural man and became an example to us all of humility, patience, love, and submission to the will of God. He laid the foundation for us as we continue his work to build the kingdom of God and Zion here on earth.
May each of us learn more of Joseph and his life, his example, and his teachings. May they lead us to a greater love of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and a greater love of our fellow men. May we strengthen our desire to become a Zion people.