Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why I Believe: Evidence Twenty-seven: Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and Insights Into Missionary Work

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet

Evidence Twenty-seven: Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and 
Insights Into Missionary Work©

Introduction:  Despite the rather staid title of today’s blog, I hope you will be patient and pursue this brief narrative, because it contains an insight that should not be overlooked when considering the possibility that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I am reproducing below a brief statement relative to missionaries and missionary work as portrayed in the Book of Mormon, followed by a story from a former General Authority about his mission as a young man. The essence of what they say is that in numerous places the Book of Mormon describes in detail missionary work; the types of exalting and discouraging experiences missionaries have. The book is as brother Rogers says below, “a great prognosticator of the workings of faith and the attendant feelings experienced” by missionaries. In witness of this, Elder F. Burton Howard learned from the Spirit as he reread the Book of Mormon that everything that happened to Ammon happened to him as a young missionary.  I recall thinking similar thoughts during my first mission.  I loved Ammon, Samuel the Lamanite, Alma and others.  They taught, lifted, and motivated me in my work as a missionary. When I was in the MTC in Salt Lake City in 1962, Elder LeGrand Richards of the Twelve taught us that if we were ever discouraged we were to read the Book of Mormon. I understand now, many years later, that this advice was not just because of the spirit of the Book of Mormon, but also because it is often a book about missionaries and missionary work.

The question is: Since Joseph Smith did not serve a mission, did not experience the joys and trials and pains of the work prior to translating the book, how did he know? How was he able to describe it so well that hundreds of thousands of missionaries in this dispensation have identified with, learned from, were encouraged and motivated by, and otherwise blessed through the accounts of missionaries and their labors in the Book of Mormon? I believe with these authors that the explanation lays in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. He did not write the Book of Mormon, he translated it by the inspiration and power of God. For me this is one more evidence in my list of reasons for believing Joseph Smith was a prophet. Please read, ponder, and enjoy.

A Great Prognosticator of the Workings, Faith and Feelings of Missionaries
As they reread the Book of Mormon, moreover, young missionaries readily identify with the personal struggles, the attitudes and feelings of so many young prophets who embarked in great weakness upon comparable proselyting ventures (cf. 2 Nephi 4:16-35; Enos; Alma 36). With its account of their exploits and the conversions that followed those of these young proselyters, the Book of Mormon is, among other things, a great prognosticator of the workings of faith and the attendant feelings experienced by many a latter-day missionary. It is worth noting, however, that the Book of Mormon was translated and published before the later-day church was ever organized and its first missionaries called. How could Joseph Smith so intimately know what missionary experience was like before he had undertaken it himself?  (It seems unlikely that his Grandfather Mack’s late tracting, as a traditional Christian among fellow Christians, was nearly so compelling as the accounts of Ammon, Alma, the sons of Mosiah, and others.) The book’s contrasting depiction of recalcitrants, the atavistic degeneration of the ungodly, and the mentality of apostates and anti-Christs (cf. Alma 30:12-18) is, in twentieth-century terms, also strikingly realistic. How deprived the world is without these additional role models and object lessons afforded by the Book of Mormon. (1)
Everything that Happened to Ammon Happened to You
I cannot remember a time when I did not know that the Book of Mormon was true. I had studied it before I went on my mission. There I read it many times. After my mission, I had the privilege of teaching early morning seminary for seven years.  The subject each year was the Book of Mormon. Again I read it each year, followed the outline, assimilated the lessons, and testified of its truthfulness. But after all of this, one day in preparation to teach a lesson my testimony of the Book of Mormon was fortified and the Holy Spirit touched my heart in a way that causes me to remember the moment even now after many years. 
I was reading again the twenty-sixth chapter of Alma and the story of Ammon's mission. I read out loud, as I sometimes do, trying to put myself in the position of the characters in the book, imagining that I was saying or hearing the words, that I was there. Once more I went over the report, and, with a clarity which cannot be described and which would be difficult to comprehend by one who has not experienced it, the Spirit spoke to my soul, saying, Did you notice? Everything that happened to Ammon happened to you.  
It was a totally unexpected sentiment. It was startling in its scope; it was a thought that had never occurred to me before. I quickly reread the story. Yes, there were times when my heart had been depressed and I had thought about going home. I too had gone to a foreign land to teach the gospel to the Lamanites. I had gone forth among them, had suffered hardships, had slept on the floor, endured the cold, gone without eating.  I too had traveled from house to house, knocking on doors for months at a time without being invited in, relying on the mercies of God. 
There had been other times when we had entered houses and talked to people. We had taught them on their streets and on their hills. We had even preached in other churches. I remembered the time I had been spit upon. I remembered the time when I, as a young district leader assigned by the mission president to open up a new town, had entered, with three other elders, the main square of a city that had never had missionaries before. We went into the park, sang a hymn, and a crowd gathered. 
Then the lot fell upon me, as district leader, to preach. I stood upon a stone bench and spoke to the people. I told the story of the restoration of the gospel, of the boy Joseph going into the grove and the appearance of the Father and the Son to him. I remembered well a group of teenage boys, in the evening shadows, throwing rocks at us. I remembered the concern about being hit or injured by those who did not want to hear the message. 
I remembered spending time in jail while my legal right to be a missionary in a certain country was decided by the police authorities. I didn't spend enough time in prison to compare myself to Ammon, but I still remember the feeling I had when the door was closed and I was far away from home, alone, with only the mercies of the Lord to rely on for deliverance. I remembered enduring these things with the hope that "we might be the means of saving some soul" (Alma 26:30). 
And then on that day as I read, the Spirit testified to me again, and the words remain with me even today: No one but a missionary could have written this story. Joseph Smith could never have known what it was like to be a missionary to the Lamanites, for no one he knew had ever done such a thing before. (2)
Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Lets think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Thomas F. Rogers, "Thoughts about Joseph Smith: Upon Reading Donna Hill’s Joseph Smith: The First Mormon," in By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday 27 March 1990, edited by John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks.  Salt Lake City / Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990, pp. 597-598, emphasis added.

2. F. Burton Howard, "Ammon: Reflections on Faith and Testimony," in Heroes from the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995), pp. 123-125, emphasis in original.

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