Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why I Believe--Evidence Six: The Range Of Joseph's Teachings And The Inherent Wisdom And Power Of His Ideas

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Six:   The Range Of Joseph's Teachings And The Inherent Wisdom And Power Of His Ideas© 

As you will see many times over, my testimony of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith has been bolstered by the research and ideas of others.  This is particularly true of those who have spent the necessary time and effort to come to understand and appreciate the Prophet. Those who have studied his life and thought and have learned to love him often have great insights that can bless the rest of us.  Let me give you an example today from the work of two BYU professors, Larry Dahl and Don Cannon.  Some years ago they prepared a new version of the teachings of Joseph Smith.  The result of their work appeared in 1997 under the title The Teachings of Joseph Smith [It is now titled Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings.] 

A decade ago Don Cannon wrote an article about some of the things he learned and the feelings he experienced while researching and preparing this book.*  In many ways, his experience parallels my own, as I spent many years teaching a class on “The Life and Thought of Joseph Smith.”  Preparing for that class has kept me studying Joseph Smith to this very day.  So, when I read Cannon’s article I frequently found myself saying, “Amen.” 

Cannon begins by discussing the sources they researched and the topics that were most prevalent in those sources.  He asserts that the best source for Joseph’s teachings is still History of the Church (7 vols.)  Most of Joseph’s teachings which ended up in their book came from 370 Sabbath addresses, 136 editorials in the Times and Seasons and 110 conference addresses.  Of course there were many other sources but these three dominated. What interested me and I want to pass on to you is a surprise about which subjects he discussed most frequently in his teachings.  Number five on the list is the “Devil.” (p. 80) That interests me because I believe that one of his missions was to testify of the reality of Satan, his power and influence. Associated with that mission he also received from God and his messengers the keys to know how to detect old Scratch when he tries to deceive people. That will be the subject of another of these blogs in the future.

Cannon’s essay is undoubtedly not comprehensive about the things he learned, but here are the highlights. [A heads up to readers.  I intend to address many, if not all of these subjects one way or another in future blog posts.]
  • “I found it especially fascinating that the Prophet Joseph taught most about the subject of revelation.  Since the work of the Restoration is centered on the concept of revelation, this is entirely fitting and appropriate.”  (p. 81) 
  • “The Prophet Joseph Smith had a marvelous understanding of the principle of obedience.” (p. 81)
  • “...Joseph had a sense of humor.  He employed humor in his teaching because he understood that humor is helpful in reaching one’s audience.”  (p. 81)
  • “...Joseph tried to incorporate colorful expressions that people could relate to and understand.  He wanted to talk their language to help them comprehend his message.” (p. 82)  [I would add that he also tried to elevate them and as frequently spoke in lofty, uplifting language.]
  • “ became evident that he was a patriot in the best sense of the word.  He frequently expressed his loyalty to the United States of America and often praised the government and especially the Constitution.”  (p. 82) 
  • “Joseph Smith believed that women had an important contribution to make to the building of the kingdom.”  (p. 83)
  • “Feelings of charity came easily and naturally to Joseph Smith.”  (p. 83)
  • “Joseph Smith sincerely believed that he had a special mandate to set things right in matters of religion.  He had an overwhelming desire to correct false doctrine and proclaim the truths that God had revealed to him.  This was his mission and his purpose as a prophet of God–a theme that runs through much of his teaching.  In fact, there are at least thirty separate settings in which the Prophet discussed his mission as a proclaimer of precious truth to a world that had lost it.”  (pp. 83-84, emphasis added.)
Cannon concludes with this testimony, a part of which I highlight as being the point of this recital:
“This encounter with Joseph’s ideas has deepened my understanding and strengthened my testimony of him. ... Engaging in this project has reinforced my own personal conviction that Joseph Smith was indeed a true prophet.  He was actually what he so boldly proclaimed.  The range of his teachings and the inherent wisdom and power of his ideas testify of his divine calling.”  (p. 84)
My most hearty “Amen,” while reading this article was evoked by the last sentence. That has been my thinking also. I am greatly interested in probing the depth of meaning hidden away in a generalization such as, “The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always come from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise.”  (TPJS, p. 183.) There are scores and scores of such gems on as many substantive issues, which tell us much about the mind and heart of the Prophet.   In such a study, it seems impossible to miss Joseph’s incomparable ability to interpret and give insight into scriptures in his teachings. The examples seem almost inexhaustible. Add to this the numerous religious and spiritual questions he resolved, his teaching about the character and nature of God and Jesus Christ, and as Brigham Young said, that “he took heaven, figuratively speaking, and brought it down to earth; and he took the earth, brought it up, and opened up, in plainness and simplicity, the things of God; and that is the beauty of his mission.”  My own work opened my eyes to his ability as a teacher, the depth of his spirituality, and his humility.

These, and two dozen more like them, are among the things that have repeatedly impressed me over the last 50 years and which I intend to address here.  I hope the Lord will grant me the time, energy, wisdom, judgment, and skill to be able to continue this project that I may add my witness to you that the range of Joseph’s teachings “and the inherent wisdom and power of his ideas testify of his divine calling.”

Thank God for Joseph Smith.  Lets think together again, soon.

*Donald Q. Cannon, “Insights into the Mind and Personality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”  Religious Educator 4, no 1 (2003): 79-86.

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