Before Joseph was trusted with the divine record written on plates of gold, the angel Moroni told Joseph that God had a work for him to do and that in the future his “name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people”. This prediction has come to pass since that time in literal detail.
Millions of men and women the world over view Joseph Smith as a servant of Jesus Christ and a modern day prophet perhaps even greater than Moses. Likewise other millions accuse him of the most vile sins and claim that he was perhaps the greatest fraud of all time. Truly Moroni predicted these circumstances correctly.
With a simple Google search one can easily find ample articles describing the life and acts of the prophet Joseph Smith, both true and untrue, from both ends of this spectrum. My purpose here in this article is to describe my experiences, and the witnesses born to me by the Holy Ghost, regarding Joseph Smith and his calling.
My Experience At 14 Years Of Age
I grew up on a “ranch” just north of Spokane Washington. I had always had an interest in God and in religion in particular. I loved the scripture stories of prophets seeing and talking with angels and in some cases with God Himself such as in (Ex 33:11, Acts 7:55-56, 3 Nephi 11:8-17). I often thought about how neat it would be to have an experience like that.
About this time my dad bought me a copy of the Book of Mormon and the New Testament on audio cassette tapes. This was my first introduction into being able to listen to recordings of someone reading the scriptures. Up to this point I had never yet read The Book Of Mormon completely through. With the help of these cassette tapes I decided to read it. So that I could say I read it, I both listened and followed along in the book.
I loved reading the book this way and felt that my comprehension was very much improved. In the past I had struggled to keep my mind focused on what I was reading; I was only 14. But listening and following along it was like reading a very interesting story, and I just loved doing it. I read pretty much straight all weekend long, every spare minute I had. By the end of Sunday I had finished reading the book in its entirety.
Kneeling Down To Pray
In the last chapter of The Book Of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5), Moroni promises “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
Moroni promises that if you read The Book Of Mormon and ask in faith, with real intent, having faith in Christ, He will manifest (or reveal) the truth of it unto us by the power of the Holy Ghost. I had been taught about this promise as a child, but I had never put it to the test. But I had now read The Book Of Mormon and was ready to give it a try!
So I did. I prayed and prayed, listened and listened, and prayed some more. Nothing happened. I had been taught that the Holy Ghost comes as a still small voice or feeling of peace. Some described it as a “burning in the bosom” and others as “pure intelligence flowing into you” that are not your own thoughts. I was getting none of these.
After about a week of this, praying as long as I could kneel every night, I began to get discouraged. I thought “what is wrong with me? Am I doing something wrong?”. But I was determined not to give up, so I started over again to read The Book Of Mormon. I likewise continued my praying and listening.
One day about two weeks or so after beginning this process, I changed my prayer from asking if The Book Of Mormon was true to “Lord why won’t you give me an answer?”. As I prayed these words I had a very vivid realization. I already knew The Book Of Mormon was true. At that time, just as this thought occurred to me, a flood of peace and warmth enveloped me as I had been hoping for. Instead of a “burning in my bosom”, I had the most warm, enlightening, joyful and peaceful feeling all over.
It was as though the spirit said “David, because you already know”, although it came as more of a realization than actual words. And that realization was accompanied by my first real palpable feeling of the Holy Ghost that I could recognize and identify. And with that came the realization that I had been feeling the Holy Ghost, only to a slightly lesser degree, all along. I hope that makes sense.
Experience On My Mission
Because I had felt the Holy Ghost for myself I was very excited to go on a mission for The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints when I turned nineteen. There was another book of scriptures that testified of Jesus Christ that most of the world did not really know about. And I had been told by the Holy Ghost that it was a true account. I was excited to share that message with others.
For my first area of my mission I was assigned to serve in Hesperia California. My first companion I was assigned to work with was a young missionary by the name of Elder Bradley. He was a fun but very hard working missionary. He was determined that I learn the lessons well before he turned me lose teaching the people he had been working with. He said he didn’t want me to embarrass him! He was a great first companion. So that first week my mind was numb with memorizing scriptures and learning the lesson plans.
Around the end of that first week he told me that he had been working with a very wonderful family of four. There was the husband, wife and two kids (a teenage daughter and a son that was about 11 or 12 years old). I will call them the Johnsons. He said that they had had all of the missionary lessons several times over and had gone through at least 4 sets of missionaries. (Missionaries typically stay in an area around 4 to 6 months.)
He said that it was really hard to get a serious discussion with them because they were so fun and knew the missionaries so well. So as a result he said they had been struggling to get them to seriously read and pray about The Book Of Mormon. Elder Bradley said he had concocted a plan hoping to solve this problem.
He asked a brother from our church congregation that had never met the Johnsons to take me to meet them for the first time. His hope was that since we were both new to the Johnsons the visit would be a bit more formal (and hopefully serious). Elder Bradley said he knew that they had felt the Holy Ghost at times in their discussions.
The Teaching Appointment
This was literally one of my very first teaching appointments. I was blessed with a very simple faith. I reasoned that since the Lord had so clearly answered my prayer, he would answer others prayer as Moroni promised. So I took this good brother from our ward (congregation) and headed off to meet with the Johnsons! Needless to say being so new I was a bit nervous.
Since the Johnsons had had all of the missionary lessons so many times, Elder Bradley sent me with a really old looking (kind of like the one in the picture on the left) film strip projector and a church video to show them.
Elder Bradley had guessed correctly. The meeting was more formal. We introduced ourselves, had a brief prayer, had a little get to know you small talk, and then set up the projector and started the church film. As I recall it was a film about Peter, James and John appearing to the prophet Joseph Smith, laying their hands upon his and Oliver Cowdery’s heads, to restore the holy priesthood.
After the video the children left the room, and I asked Brother Johnson if he had read some of The Book Of Mormon and prayed about it. If memory serves he said that he had read some of it but hadn’t really prayed about it. I explained to him what the Holy Ghost feels like and asked him if he was willing for us to pray as a group for his answer.
He eagerly agreed and the four of us knelt down in a circle and took turns praying to ask if Joseph Smith was a prophet and if The Book Of Mormon was true. I and the brother from the ward went first, and then Brother and Sister Johnson prayed in turn after. The Holy Ghost was there so powerfully it felt almost thick. A feeling of peace and goodness permeated as we took turns praying.
Brother Johnson prayed last and finally had to stop because he was getting emotional. When he stopped I waited for a moment and then I asked him “Brother Johnson are you getting your answer?” With tears in his eyes he looked at me and nodded yes that he was. That was a very sacred experience that I will always remember. And it was a joy to help baptize and confirm them a few weeks later.
Experience With My Mission Companion
A little more than a decade or so after our missions, one of my former mission companions was struggling with his testimony. He had been struggling since returning home from his mission on and off. For the purpose of this article I will call him Bill. Bill had been an excellent missionary but arrived home to some problems with his family that really shook his faith in the Church.
I had spent many hours over the past decade talking to Bill and trying to answer questions. Bill is a very analytical person and at first read all of the writings of the early christian reformers and then got heavily into all of the anti-Mormon accusations. At the same time period I had one of my uncles also struggling with his testimony. My uncle had friends digging things out of the church historical archives trying to prove that the church was originally true but had fallen away after Joseph Smith’s death.
Neither of these two would listen to anything I said unless I read everything they sent me to read; so I read a lot of this stuff back then. This was the winter of 1998-1999 up to the summer of 1999. I remembered advice given by Apostle M. Russell Ballard in his talk entitled “When Shall These Things Be?” from 1996 where he challenged a former missionary that was reading anti-Mormon literature to “give equal time” to the reading of The Book of Mormon. He told this missionary to read whatever he wanted as long as he gave equal time to the Lord.
As I read all of this stuff given to me from both my uncle and Bill, I made a point to read about the same amount of time from The Book Of Mormon. As they gave me a ton of things to read, I was reading double. I read a whole lot of The Book Of Mormon during these days.
Then one day I got a call from Bill. I was by myself in my office at work. Bill was particularly angry and negative that day and began making very vile accusations about Joseph Smith and the Holy Temple. These same accusations were the whole point of some of the materials he had given me to read, but I think it was the tone with which he said it as well as what he said that got to me.
As we ended our conversation and I hung up the phone I stood up from a chair that was in front of my desk, intending to walk around and sit back at my desk. At that moment the thought went through my head “well maybe the church isn’t true”. Obviously I had wondered that before, especially back in my early days before the answer to my prayer at age 14. But this time I wondered that thought more deeply.
As I walked around my desk I saw sitting on an end table a copy of the July 1999 Ensign (shown in the above left image) that had a picture of the prophet Joseph Smith on the cover. No sooner did I glance at that picture of the prophet than I had the most powerful feeling of the Holy Ghost come over me I have ever felt in my life.
I felt that same palpable warm enveloping by the Holy Ghost that I felt when I was 14, but multiplied many times in strength. I was wrapped in a warm blanket of the Holy Ghost from head to foot. It felt almost like I was floating in the air. More powerfully than I had ever experienced before, I was being told that Joseph Smith was and is everything he claimed to be. He was Jesus Christ’s own prophet. It is hard to put into words.
And the feeling didn’t leave for a long time. It must have gone on for at least twenty minutes. As the spirit bore witness to my soul of the divinity of Joseph Smith’s calling, I could do nothing but cry uncontrollably. It was so powerful. I walked over and laid down on a couch in my office and just basked in that witness and cried until it eventually subsided.
I have thought since how very grateful I am that Bill kind of dragged me through that experience, although it is not a path I recommend to others. Bill and I came to different conclusions, but I will always be grateful for the witness that I was blessed with through this interaction. I can now say I know without the shadow of a doubt that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of the Lord Jesus Christ. There just is no question or possibility of doubt after that experience.
I will also echo the advice of Apostle M. Russell Ballard. Read whatever you want. Just give equal time to the reading of The Book Of Mormon. It is a pure and holy book like the Bible. I believe it is impossible to read it consistently with a sincere heart and with real intent and not know through every fiber of your being that it is verily the word of God.
Finally, if you encounter questions that you don’t have answers to, I promise you the answers exist. You just probably won’t get them until after the trial of your faith. If you persist patiently with hope, they will come. Of that I solemnly promise and testify, in the holy name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.