THE history of Joseph Smith and the work to the establishment of which he gave his life must ever be a strange and unique chapter in the history of his generation. The claims he made were not only new and strange, but in positive conflict with the traditions and settled convictions of his time.
For a man to claim that he was intrusted with a divine appointment to restore to a Christian nation what they supposed they already possessed and richly enjoyed, would naturally create bitter antagonism, and we are not surprised that the conflict still continues; nor do we blame men for refusing to accept the claims of the Latter Day Saints until good reasons are shown for so doing, but we are quite anxious that the world should patiently hear and investigate, assured that our claims will bear all the light that can be thrown upon them.
The supposed extraordinary claims of Joseph Smith seem to harmonize with the spirit and feelings of some of the Reformers who preceded him. The claim that one should come in the spirit and power of Elias, as a "restorer," now seems strange and new; yet Martin Luther said:-
"I cannot tell what to say of myself. Perhaps I am
Philip's (Melancthon's) forerunner. I am preparing the way for him, like Elias, in spirit and in power."-D'Aubigné's History of the Reformation, vol. 2, p.105.
It is evident from these words that Luther felt that he was laboring in the spirit and power of Elias, as a restorer; and that he was the forerunner of one who was to do a greater work than he. He thought it might be Philip Melancthon, but did not know.
The claim of Joseph Smith that Elias did come to restore all things is but a testimony of the consummation of an event that Martin Luther felt would come, and for which he ardently hoped, zealously labored, and fervently prayed.
The famous John Wesley also believed in the ushering in of a latter-day dispensation and the establishing of God's kingdom on the earth. He says:-
"The times which we have reason to believe are at hand, (if they are not already begun,) are what many pious men have termed, the time of 'the latter-day glory';-meaning, the time wherein God would gloriously "display his power and love, in the fulfillment of his gracious promise that 'the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea."'
Again, he says:-
"What could God have done which he hath not done, to convince you that the day is coming, that the time is at hand, when he will fulfill his glorious promises; when he will arise to maintain his own cause, and to set up his kingdom over all the earth"-Wesley's Sermons, vol. 2, sermon 71.
Are not the claims of Joseph Smith regarding the glorious display of God's power, the "latter-day glory," and the setting up of God's kingdom if true, a remarkable fulfillment of what Wesley said would come?
You Protestant lovers of the Reformation, will you not then patiently hear us while we relate the thrilling experiences, the wonderful testimonies, and the remarkable work of this strange man, and invite your investigation of the work accomplished or begun by him?
Already some of the most astute minds of the age have paid their tribute of respect to the man and his work. In a
work called "Figures of the Past," by Josiah Quincy, on page 376 occurs the following:- "It is by no means improbable that some future text-book, for the use of generations yet unborn, will contain a question something like this: What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen? And it is by no means impossible that the answer to that interrogatory may be thus written: Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.
And the reply, absurd as it doubtless seems to most men now living, may be an obvious commonplace to their descendants. History deals in surprises and paradoxes quite as startling as this. The man who established a religion in this age of free debate, who was and is to day accepted by hundreds of thousands as a direct emissary from the Most High,-such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epithets. Fanatic, impostor, charlatan, he may have been; but these hard names furnish no solution to the problem he presents to us. Fanatics and impostors are living and dying every day, and their memory is buried with them; but the wonderful influence which this founder of a religion exerted and still exerts throws him into relief before us, not as a rogue to be criminated, but as a phenomenon to be explained.
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"Joseph Smith, claiming to be an inspired teacher, faced adversity such as few men have been called to meet, enjoyed a brief season of prosperity such as few men have ever attained, and, finally, forty-three days after I saw him, went cheerfully to a martyr's death."
A Methodist preacher by the name of Prior, who visited Nauvoo in 1843, speaks of Joseph Smith as follows:-
"I will not attempt to describe the various feelings of my bosom as I took my seat in a conspicuous place in the congregation, who were waiting in breathless silence for his appearance. While he tarried, I had plenty time to revolve in my mind the character and common report of that truly singular personage. I fancied that I
should behold a countenance sad and sorrowful, yet containing the fiery marks of rage and exasperation. I supposed that I should be enabled to discover in him some of those thoughtful and reserved features, those mystic and sarcastic glances, which I had fancied the ancient sages to possess. I expected to see that fearful, faltering look of conscious shame which, from what I had heard of him, he might be expected to evince. He appeared at last; but how was I disappointed when instead of the heads and horns of the beast and false prophet, I beheld only the appearance of a common man, of tolerably large proportions. I was sadly disappointed, and thought that, although his appearance could not be wrested to indicate anything against him, yet he would manifest all I had heard of him when he began to preach. I sat uneasily, and watched him closely. He commenced preaching, not from the Book of Mormon, however, but from the Bible; the first chapter of the first of Peter was his text. He commenced calmly, and continued dispassionately to pursue his subject, while I sat in breathless silence, waiting to hear that foul aspersion of the other sects, that diabolical disposition of revenge, and to hear that rancorous denunciation of every individual but a Mormon. I waited in vain; I listened with surprise; I sat uneasy in my seat, and could hardly persuade myself but that he had been apprised of my presence, and so ordered his discourse on my account, that I might not be able to find fault with it; for instead of a jumbled jargon of half-connected sentences, and a volley of imprecations, and diabolical and malignant denunciations, heaped upon the heads of all who differed from him, and the dreadful twisting and wresting of the Scriptures to suit his own peculiar views, and attempts to weave a web of dark and mystic sophistry around the Gospel truths, which I had anticipated, he glided along through a very interesting and elaborate discourse with all the care and happy facility of one who was well aware of his important station, and his duty to God and man."-Smucker's History of the Mormons, pp. 151-152.
Smucker sums up his character as follows:-
"But whether knave or lunatic, whether a liar or a true man, it cannot be denied that he was one of the most extra-ordinary
persons of his time, a man of rude genius, who accomplished a much greater work than he knew; and whose name, whatever he may have been whilst living, will take its place among the notabilities of the world."-Smucker, p. 183.
Reader, do you not think it wiser to investigate the work of this remarkable character than to ignorantly hurl unsavory epithets at his memory? If you do, we ask the privilege of submitting historical facts for your consideration.