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selves to the new governmental ideas exemplified in the constitution and its first twelve amendments, Joseph Smith was born in Vermont, December 23, 1805. The time of his birth was most opportune. Religious liberty had been firmly established by the adoption of the first amendment to the constitution in 1791. The minds of men were peculiarly awake to new ideas, and a new era was being ushered in with the century. It was to be an era distinguished for inventive genius, political and social movements, and religious reform. The social soil, broken up by the new ideas and the violent battles of the Revolution, and moistened with the blood of patriots and the tears of women and children, was ready to produce new growths, some of them grotesque, some harmful, and others most beneficial.
In the early environments of his rural home, Joseph was not free from the toils and sorrows of poverty; and there is no fire which more surely than poverty's, burns out the dross of one's character and leaves the pure gold. His days from early boyhood were full of grinding toil. The severity of this toil and the strictures of discipline incident to New England life, moulded and solidified his character into such a form as to resist the allurements of sin and the blandishments of favoritism, with their attendant train of sorrow and weakness. Even at the age of ten years, when the family moved to Palmyra, New York, Joseph had known his full share of privation. In his new scene of activity, new duties awaited him. The land was strange to the farmer's plow and the heavy growths of timber covering it had to yield to the settler's ax. In this hard labor Joseph had to bear his humble part, and an immature, gourd like growth of character was thus rendered impossible. Doubtless it was well that he was not allowed much training in the schools of his vicinity. Such instruction as he received at the fireside after the “day's toil,” was much better adapted to prepare him for the peculiar labor of his life, than were the semi-sectarian teachings of the ordinary frontier school. Such a boyhood as he passed would develop pre-eminently the qualities of hardihood, endurance, self-reliance, trust in God, and a becoming, though strong, humility. His training was like the breaking and mellowing
of the virgin soil, with plow and harrow, preparatory to the planting of the seed. His soul was not to remain tranquil and in active during the important period of childhood, but was to be awakened into a fruitful activity. He had to be different from other men, in order to do his work well.
He must be lacking in pride and headiness, while strong in firmness and fruitfulness. Therefore it was essential that even his childhood should be out of the ordinary, in the peculiar toils and trials through which he was called to pass.
In no particular was this uniqueness of character more marked than in his religious feelings. The waters of his soul were stirred to their inmost depths by his own religious musings; the surface only was agitated by the sectarian excitement in his neighborhood. Yet, in the midst of it all; with the lo here!" and the "lo there!" sounding in his ears; with the curse of God and the torments of the damned pronounced upon him by ignorant bigotry, he stood firm to his conviction that the true way had not yet been shown him. True, this conviction was only negative; yet it was the one possible avenue to the positive convictions which were to come to him at a later time. Even in the depths of doubt and uncertainty, he held to the anchor of God's word, to save him from the waves of man-made, changing doctrine. youthful, immature mind was even then keen enough to reason closely and to recognize the discrepancy between the ancient church which Christ recognized as his, and the broken fragments of warring factions of modern sectarianism. Therefore, he stood “to the law and to the testimony," and judged by its standard the systems of religion he was called upon to espouse.
How long he lived and how much he experienced during this brief period, it is impossible for one differently situated to comprehend
"We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts not breaths;
Judged from this standard, surely the childhood alone of
Joseph Smith was as long as the entire life of a man without pure thoughts, generous feelings, and fruitful acts.
It was during this period that the anxious element of religion entered into his soul. He was led to the revival meetings to seek religious consola'ion; but in its place he found threats of perdition if he refused to accept the glimmering light offered him. The pangs of hell were painted in glowing colors, "to frighten souls to heaven." Much as this may have impressed him with a desire for salvation, the very confusion of it hid the way of salvation from him. A boy of weaker determination would have risked everything on a chance, and thrown himself into the first religious opening offered to him. But Joseph resisted alike the threats and the blandishments of sectarian ministers, and awaited with prepared mind, the coming of the fullness of light.
It was under these conditions that he sought the word of God and then the Lord himself for wisdom. The boy had just passed his fourteenth year, and had entered upon the important period of life when childhood begins to merge into manhood. Nothing could be more fitting than that the ushering in of his full powers of mind and body should be accompanied by the enriching of his spiritual faculties. He had become a man spiritually, as well as physically; and the independence of manhood was to be sorely tried and tested. How much it meant to him to have the Father and the Son reveal themselves to him:-how much it revolutionized his boyish life, we cannot comprehend. But we may be assured that all his praiseworthy characteristics were strengthened; his spirituality, his self-reliance, his trust in God, his patience, his determined zeal, his capacity for work and self-sacrifice. Had he not seen God? Had he not endured the effulgence of his glory? Had he not received the promise of the fullness of truth, to chase the darkness? Could he not now stand, "a man amongst men,” even, if need be, against them all? “I know, for I have seen!" could be his triumphant cry, whether in the pulpit, in the court room, in the prison, or in the hands of the mob.
If his good qualities were increased and strengthened by his strange experience, his conscience was rendered all the more sensitive to his petty faults. Thrown, as he was, into the society of men and boys who were far from godly in their lives, he no doubt fell into slight errors, which were magnified by his sensitive mind into gross offences. It is more than likely that his free confession of these faults, under stress of his supersensitiveness, gave rise to the absurd charges of theft, lying, grossness, and licentiousness so freely circulated against him by his enemies in his manhood.
But the most pathetic element of his life during the few years subsequent to his first vision, was his utter loneliness. He carried the announcement of his vision to his companions:—they ridiculed him; to strangers:—they derided him; to professed ministers of Christ:—they heaped abuse and persecution upon him. True, they of his own household gave at least partial assent to his claims, but for the whole world beside not only to reject them, but even to make them the occasion for active abuse and opposition, for slander and contumely, made it appear to the boy that he was deserted by his friends. During this three and a half years even the heavens seemed closed to him. No positive answer could he get through prayer, no assurance that he was still accepted of God.
It seemed as if his budding manhood was to be blighted and his development checked, like fruit blasted by spring frosts. We may compare his loneliness to that of Napoleon at St. Helena; but his English guards provided him with every possible comfort and convenience. We may compare it to that of Washington amid suffering, abuse, and slander at Valley Forge; but his humble soldiers stood by him and loved him in full confidence. We may compare it to the condition of Joan of Arc before her execution; but a faithful few stood by her and her God consoled her. His loneliness was more than physical, more than mental:-it was spiritual. It approached very near, at least in kind, to the sublime loneliness of Christ, when he cried in his anguish, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
Not that he felt himself entirely forsaken of God. But in his boyish view the contumely of his fellow-men seemed an evidence of the withdrawal of heavenly favor, and not as he afterwards proved it, a sign of its continuance. Writing of this period afterward, he said:
"I have thought since that I felt much like Paul when he made his defence before King Agrippa and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light and heard a voice, but still there were but few who believed him. Some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad, and he was ridiculed and reviled; but all this did not destroy the reality of bis vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto deato, yet he knew, and would know unto his latest breath, that he had both seen a light, and heard a voice speaking to him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise. So it was with me; I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two personages, and they did in reality speak unto me, or one of them did; and though I was bated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was there; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me, falsely, for so saying, I was led to say in my heart, Why persecute for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision, and who am I that I can withstand God? Or why does the world
think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision. I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God and come under condemnation.'
It was this condition of fear and dread, of sore temptation and trial of faith, which led the boy to apply the supreme test of prayer, to find if he was still accepted of God. He had undergone the test of waiting in silence and partial darkness, a probation which would have exhausted the endurance of one less firm than he. In his case, power of endurance, patience, long-suffering, trust in God, firmness, and all the other essentials of a man of God were developed and fixed in his character. There is no wonder, after such a training, that he was able to withstand the temptations and endure the trials of his adult life and ministry.
But no matter how sustained by trust, one cannot wait forever for a positive sign of God's favor. During the latter portion of his period of waiting, Joseph sought the Lord most earnestly for a manifestation of approval, to chase away the doubts which must have accumulated in his own mind. It was this constant supplication which finally resulted in the visit of the Angel Moroni. The impressions of that vision were lasting. They were intended to be. There could have been no other purpose in the three-fold repetition of visit and instructions. By the vision the boy was not only reassured, but strengthened for further trials. He was forewarned against other dangers. If he had already endured the taunts, the sneers, the contempt of former associates, he must now endure their bitter hatred and violent personal attacks. The negative opposition of Satan was now to become positive and aggressive. The bludgeon, the warrant of arrest, the slanderous publication and the assassin's bullet were now the weapons to be used against him.
The willingness with which he waited, in the midst of this active opposition, for four more years to pass before he could obtain the custody of the plates, deserves our sincerest admiration. Turning back from the communion he had enjoyed with the angel, and from the glorious sight which met his gaze when he lifted the cover of the stone box on the Hill Cumorah, he willingly gave himself over to his life of toil, exchanging heavenly things for those of earth. His was not a narrow, light mind, lifted by angel's companionship into the clouds, and disdaining material things. The first consideration with him was his duty, and his duty during these four years was to help bear his father's burdens. Just as the youthful Jesus could turn from his learned, spiritual communion with the doctors in the temple, and take his place at