Joseph Smith: A Revealer of Christ
BRUCE R. MCCONKIE
Bruce R. McConkie was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this fireside
was given atÊBrigham Young University on 3 September 1978.
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I devoutly and sincerely hope that we may have a rich outpouring of the Holy
Spirit, for two reasons: first, so that I may say what the Lord wants said and
what he would say if he personally were here; and secondly, so that those words
will sink into your hearts and you will know of a surety that they are true. I
shall take as a subject, "Joseph Smith: A Revealer of Christ."
I have chosen as a text statement these words, prepared and published by the
First Presidency of the Church in 1935 on the occasion of the one hundredth
anniversary of the organization of the first Quorum of Twelve Apostles in our
Two great truths must be accepted by mankind if they shall save
themselves: first, that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Only Begotten, the
very Son of God, whose atoning blood and resurrection save us from the physical
and spiritual death brought to us by the fall; and next, that God has restored
to the earth, in these last days, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, His holy
Priesthood with the fulness of the everlasting Gospel, for the salvation of all
men on the earth. Without these truths man may not hope for the riches of the
life hereafter. [The Improvement Era, April 1935, pp. 204–5]
We have a great pattern, a revealed pattern interwoven in all of the
revelations that have been given in all ages, that indicates how salvation is
made available to men on earth. As we are all aware, we are here on earth as the
spirit children of God, our Heavenly Father. We are here inhabiting
bodies--tabernacles made of clay--to be tried and examined and tested to see if
we will do all things that the Lord directs and commands for his children
generally and for each of us in particular. We are here to see if we will
believe eternal truth and if we will conform to the principles so accepted and
so learned. And if we believe and obey, we manage to do the things that will
enable us, first, to have peace and joy and happiness in this life, and
secondly, to go on to eternal reward in our Father's kingdom.
For every age in which the gospel is given, for every gospel dispensation,
for every time that a gracious God dispenses the plan of salvation to his
children on earth, he follows an identical pattern: he reveals two great truths
which apply to the dispensation involved. One of these truths applies to all
dispensations and the other to the specific dispensation. The truth of universal
application for all men in all ages from father Adam to the last man is that
salvation is in Christ; that he is the Redeemer and Savior of men; that in and
through his atoning sacrifice, by the blood that he shed and the redemption that
he wrought, salvation is available for all men. Because of Christ, all men will
be raised in immortality, and those who believe and obey will then be raised
unto eternal life in our Father's kingdom.
Immortality, by definition and in its nature, is to live everlastingly with a
body of flesh and bones; it is to be resurrected; it is to have body and spirit
inseparably connected. Eternal life, on the other hand, is, for one thing, to
live eternally in the family unit and, for another thing, to inherit, possess,
and receive the dignity, honor, power, and glory of God himself. Anyone for whom
the family unit continues in eternity will have eternal life, and in process of
time he will acquire all the dignity, honor, glory, power, might, and
omnipotence that the Eternal Father possesses.
Immortality comes because of the Lord Jesus Christ; it is a free gift for all
men. Eternal life is made available through the same atoning sacrifice, and it
is a gift to all who obey the law upon which its receipt is predicated. The laws
of salvation are the same for every age. They have never varied, and they will
never vary. Every man from Adam to the last soul to inhabit this earth must do
precisely and exactly the same things and obey the same laws in order to
inherit, receive, and possess the same glory in eternity.
Salvation is in Christ, and in order for men to believe and obey, the laws of
Christ and the doctrine of Christ--which comprise his everlasting gospel--must
be revealed in whatever age is involved. That is a universal, unvarying
requirement. The gospel did not originate in the meridian of time--it did not
start when the Lord Jesus was upon earth. It is an everlasting gospel. It
commenced in the beginning, it has come down in successive periods or
dispensations from the days of Adam to the present, and it will continue as long
as men are on earth; and always and everlastingly salvation will be in Christ.
But we need a revealer of the knowledge of salvation for whatever
dispensation is involved. Our revelation says, "Salvation was, and is, and is to
come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent" (Mosiah
3:18). We need make no mistake about that. Our affection, our interest, our
concern, our love, our devotion--all that we have and all that we possess is
centered in the Lord Jesus; but, having said that affirmatively and
unequivocally and positively, we come to the fact that a revealer of the
knowledge of Christ and of salvation is needed for every age of the earth. Thus
we find such a thing in our revelations as this: "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" (D&C 135:3). And so,
for our dispensation, we link the names of Christ and of Joseph Smith.
Now I read you these words of Brigham Young:
Who can justly say aught against Joseph Smith? I was as well acquainted
with him, as any man. I do not believe that his father and mother knew him any
better than I did. I do not think that a man lives on the earth that knew him
any better than I did; and I am bold to say that, Jesus Christ excepted, no
better man ever lived or does live upon this earth. I am his witness. He was
persecuted for the same reason that any other righteous person has been or is
persecuted at the present day. [John A. Widtsoe, comp., Discourses of
Brigham Young, 2d ed., pp. 702–3]
Let us gain a true vision; let us reason together and figure out how the Lord
operates with reference to his children. First of all, we read in the visions of
Abraham about the noble and great in the premortal life who were foreordained.
Abraham is told that he is one of them. They are identified as the offspring of
the Father, as spirits, as souls; and then the account says, "And there stood
one among them that was like unto God." This is the Lord Jesus, the Lord
Jehovah. This is the firstborn in the spirit who, through righteousness and
zealousness and obedience, became "like unto God," meaning unto the Father.
And he [that is, Christ] said unto those who were with him [the
host of noble and great ones, the ones Abraham had seen]: We will go down
[not I, Jehovah, alone, but we, the noble and great, the mighty and valiant sons
of our Father; we will go down] for there is space there, and we will take of
these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these [that is, the
spirit hosts of heaven] may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things
whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them. [Abraham 3:24–25]
Who is listed and counted in that great council of eternity, that assemblage
of the noble and great seen by Abraham? There is not much question in our minds;
they were the people who were foreordained to minister to men in this world.
We know a little bit about the order of priority, the precedence, and the
rank that is involved. We know that the Lord Jesus was number one: mighty,
superior, valiant, intelligent above all others. We know that a spirit named
Michael was number two, and that he was born into this world as Adam, the first
man. We know that a spirit named Gabriel stood third in preeminence, might, and
power, and that he came among us as Noah.
After that we cannot specifically and definitely categorize the various
spirits; but we do know that the noblest and the greatest and the mightiest
among them were ordained to be heads of dispensations--to be the individuals
who, for their era and age and dispensation, would commence the spread of
eternal truth on earth. We know, for instance, with reference to Moses, who was
the head of one of these dispensations, that "there arose not another prophet .
. . in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deuteronomy
34:10). That sets us a pattern. We know of men like Enoch, who so lived that he
perfected his whole city and his whole people, and they were translated and
taken up into heaven. We look back at Abraham and consider him to be the Father
of the Faithful and rejoice that we are born as his seed.
There is a limited number of mighty, noble spirits who headed the respective
dispensations. How many we do not know; perhaps there were eight or ten or
twenty, but the number does not matter. At any rate, we soon have a small group
of select individuals who stand in intelligence and power and might next to the
Lord Jehovah. In the same sense that he was like unto God, these chosen and
select individuals who were destined to head his work for these long ages were
like unto Christ.
When sifting out the relative importance of individuals, without knowing the
details, we can conclude that a man born in modern times to head this
dispensation was like unto Adam, like unto Moses, like unto Abraham, like unto
Christ--in other words, was one of the ten or twenty noblest and greatest
spirits who, up to this time, have been born into mortality. He and hosts with
him performed their labors and their work in the creative enterprises that
brought this earth rolling into existence, and he and his associates headed the
periods of time when eternal truth went out to the sons of men.
That is how we rank and place the prophet Joseph Smith: he is one of the
great dispensation heads, and a dispensation head is a revealer for his age and
his period of the knowledge of Christ and of salvation. Thus, the other prophets
of the dispensation who are associated with him and who come after him, who
sustain his work and bear record of him, become witnesses that he--the chief
prophet of their age--revealed the Lord Jesus and hence made salvation
This means that in a testimony meeting in our day we link the name of Joseph
Smith with that of Jesus Christ. We stand up and say, "I know that Jesus Christ
is the Son of the living God and that he was crucified for the sins of the
world." And in the next breath we say, "I know that Joseph Smith, Junior, was
chosen, appointed, anointed, and called as God's prophet for this age in order
to reveal Christ and to reveal salvation." We bear witness of Christ, and we
bear witness of Joseph Smith.
That is the way it has been from the beginning. There have always been
testimony meetings. If we had lived in the days of Adam and had assembled to
worship the Lord, the Spirit would have rested mightily upon us on occasions and
we would have said, "I know that salvation is in Christ who shall come, and I
know that Adam, our father, is a legal administrator who holds keys and powers
and authority, and that he is the revealer of the knowledge of Christ and of
salvation for men on earth."
If we had lived in the days of Enoch, we would have arisen in our testimony
meetings and said, "I testify of Christ, and I testify of Enoch who revealed
Christ, and automatically I believe also in Adam who went before." That pattern
would also have been followed in Noah's day, in Abraham's day, in Melchizedek's
day, and in every age when eternal truth has been revealed. Always we would have
linked the name of Christ and the name of the dispensation head, and
automatically we would have believed in every prophet that went before.
We cannot suppose for one minute that it would be possible for someone who
lived in the days of the Lord Jesus to believe that he was the son of God and
yet to reject the witness of Peter, James, and John. That is a philosophical
impossibility. Had we lived in that day it would not have been possible to say,
"Well, I'll believe in Christ; but I won't believe in Peter, James, and John,
his apostles, who have revealed him to me and who have borne witness of his
divine Sonship." The Lord and his prophets always go together. With that in mind
let me read these words of Brigham Young:
Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God to reveal the holy
Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and
building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit is of God; and every
spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the
everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist, no matter whether it is
found in a pulpit or on a throne. [JD 8:176–77]
Having these concepts and these expressions in mind, I am going to read to
you some passages given and spoken by the Lord Jesus, in which he associates
himself with John the Baptist. Out of these passages we shall have an
affirmation and a reaffirmation of the truth and concept that Christ and his
prophets go together, that it is not possible to believe in one without
believing in the other, and that by rejecting the prophets we reject Christ
himself. Jesus said this:
If I bear witness of myself, yet my witness is true.
For I am not alone, there is another who beareth witness of me, and I know
that the testimony which he giveth of me is true.
Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness also unto the truth.
And he received not his testimony of man, but of God, and ye yourselves
say that he is a prophet, therefore ye ought to receive his testimony. [John
5:32–35; Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, hereafter cited as JST; all
biblical references without this notation come from the King James Version]
John bore as persuasive and powerful a testimony as we know of or find in any
written record. On those occasions of Christ's visits to him near Bethabara, as
he baptized in Jordan, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the
sin of the world" (John 1:29, 36). That was simply a text statement or a subject
head for long discourses that he obviously preached about the divine Sonship. On
one occasion John said this--and it is as blunt and as plain as any witness--"He
that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the
Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). John
said, in effect, "Here is Jesus; he is the Son of God." There was no possible
way to believe that John was a prophet and reject the Lord
Jesus. To accept one was to accept the other. Jesus said,
John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and bore record of me, and
ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him; and ye,
afterward, when ye had seen me, repented not, that ye might believe him.
For he that believed not John concerning me, cannot believe me, except he
And except ye repent, the preaching of John shall condemn you in the day
of judgment. [Matthew 21:32–34; JST]
We could recite that over again, paraphrasing the language, and apply it to
Joseph Smith and his situation in our day.
Here is another passage:
Then said the Pharisees unto him, Why will ye not receive us with our
baptism, seeing we keep the whole law?
But Jesus said unto them, Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye
would have received me, for I am he who gave the law.
I receive not you with your baptism, because it profiteth you nothing.
For when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away.
[Matthew 9:18–21; JST]
Following those expressions came the ones with which we are so familiar,
about putting new wine in old bottles. In other words, we have new revelation in
our day in a new church, just as the case was in the meridian dispensation.
Then certain of them came to him, saying, Good Master, we have Moses and
the prophets, and whosoever shall live by them, shall he not have life?
And Jesus answered, saying, Ye know not Moses, neither the prophets; for
if ye had known them, ye would have believed on me; for to this intent they were
written. For I am sent that ye might have life. [Luke 14:35–36; JST]
The principle that the Lord and his prophets go together is a glorious one.
Here are some words I wrote on this subject on one occasion.
We be Abraham's children, the Jews said to Jove;
We shall follow our Father, inherit his trove.
But from Jesus our Lord, came the stinging rebuke:
Ye are children of him, whom ye list to obey;
Were ye Abraham's seed, ye would walk in his path,
And escape the strong chains of the father of wrath.
We have Moses the seer, and the prophets of old;
All their words we shall treasure as silver and gold.
But from Jesus our Lord, came the sobering voice;
If to Moses ye turn, then give heed to his word;
Only then can ye hope for rewards of great worth,
For he spake of my coming and labors on earth.
We have Peter and Paul, in their steps let us trod;
So religionists say, as they worship their God.
But speaks He who is Lord of the living and dead:
In the hands of those prophets, those teachers and seers,
Who abide in your day have I given the keys;
Unto them ye must turn, the Eternal to please.
With those principles in mind, let us be vividly and acutely aware of their
application to Joseph Smith. One of our revelations says--in the words of the
Lord Jesus, speaking to Joseph Smith--"This generation shall have my word
through you" (D&C 5:10). I think He made that statement, either in those
verbatim words or in thought content, to every dispensation head there has been.
I think he said it to Enoch, Moses, Abraham, and in principle to all: "This
generation shall have my word through you." Someone has to reveal eternal truth,
and these brethren whom I have mentioned are the ones to whom the Lord gave that
Therefore, we find such directives as this, spoken by the Lord to the Church
immediately following its organization on the sixth day of April in 1830. He is
talking about Joseph Smith:
Thou [the church] shalt give heed unto all his words and
commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all
holiness before me.
[Now note:] For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in
all patience and faith. [This sets a dispensation head apart from all other
prophets. Here is the subsequent statement about him:]
Behold, I will bless all those who labor in my vineyard with a mighty
blessing, and they shall believe on his words, which are given him through me by
the Comforter, which manifesteth that Jesus was crucified by sinful men for the
sins of the world, yea, for the remission of sins unto the contrite heart.
[D&C 21:4–5, 9]
What is the measure of our discipleship? How do we measure and test how
firmly we are rooted in the restored faith? I think one of the great tests is
the degree and the extent, the fervor and sincerity, the devotion and true
belief that we give to the words that came from the Prophet Joseph Smith. Here
is a man that, first of all, gave us the Book of Mormon--the Book of Mormon,
which is an account of God's dealings with a people who had the fullness of the
gospel, which bears record of Christ, which recounts in plainness and in
simplicity the basic and fundamental truths that men must believe to be saved.
Here is a man who gave a book of incomparable value--his words, as it were to
us, at least, because it was through his instrumentality that they came. Here is
a man who gave us the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants--revelations
which speak in the first person, with the Lord Jesus himself being mouth and
voice but the lips being the lips of Joseph Smith--a volume of revealed truth
where God Almighty speaks through his prophet.
Here are words that the Prophet gave us in the Pearl of Great Price, the Book
of Moses being taken from the Joseph Smith translation of the scriptures and the
Book of Abraham being translated from the papyrus. Here are words in many places
in the Joseph Smith Translation itself, revealed words that come from God by
prophetic power. Here are sermons--majestic, wondrous, marvelous sermons which
recount the mind and will and plan and purposes of the Lord to men on earth--for
instance, the King Follet sermon from which President Kimball quoted copiously
at the funeral sermon of Brother Stapley recently.
We speak about judging a man by his fruits, and among the great fruits of
Joseph Smith are the words that he spoke, the words that he wrote, the inspired
message that he gave. I suggest that a measure of discipleship, a standard of
judgment whereby we can tell how firmly we are anchored in the faith of the
Lord, is how sincerely and completely we believe the words that have come from
the Prophet Joseph Smith. Obviously incident to this, we have an obligation and
a need to treasure up these words, to search out these truths, to learn what
they are, and then to make them a living part of us.
We bear testimony of Christ, and we do it with all the fervor and conviction
and power of our whole soul, striving and laboring to do it by the power of the
Holy Ghost; and as our voices echo and reecho the eternal verity that Christ is
the Lord, we say also that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, a legal
administrator who had power from God--keys and authority--so that he could bind
on earth and have it sealed eternally in the heavens. Here, we say, is Joseph
Smith, a revealer of the knowledge of Christ and of salvation for our day. We
link the words together in one great testimony of eternal truth; and the reason
we have power to bear witness of Christ, through whom salvation comes, is that
Joseph Smith, the prophet and seer of the Lord for our day and in our day, has
received eternal truth, has borne witness, has given revelation, has laid the
Brigham Young once said, "I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when
I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.
458); and that is as it ought to be, because salvation is in Christ and
salvation is available because Joseph Smith revealed Christ to the world. The
world either accepts that witness and believes in the Lord's prophets or goes
its way and at its peril loses the hope of eternal salvation. One must believe
in Adam and Christ, if living in that day; or in Abraham and Christ, if living
in that day; or in Moses and Christ if living then; or, in our day, in Joseph
Smith and Jesus Christ, crying "Hosanna" and "Hallelujah" and "Praise the Lord"
whenever their names are mentioned by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am grateful beyond any measure of expression I have that in my soul there
rests the absolute, certain conviction that Jesus is the Lord. I know that as
well as I know anything in this world. In that same sense--with unshaken
certainty and absolute, pure, revealed knowledge--I know that Joseph Smith,
Junior, who headed this dispensation, as the Lord's prophet for our day and our
time; and that, as he certified, he saw in the spring of 1820 the Father and the
Son; and that, as he certified, the revelations and the truths that fell from
his lips are the voice and mind and will and purposes of the Lord for me and for
all men in our day.
I pray God our Father that we may be valiant and true, that we may stand
affirmatively and courageously in bearing witness of Christ--because salvation
is in Christ and in none other--and that we will have the same fervor and the
same devotion in linking the mighty and noble name of the head of our
dispensation with the name of the Savior himself.
This I do by way of doctrine and by way of testimony on this occasion in the
name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.