Two hundred years ago today, Joseph Smith, Jr. was born. In spite of numerous and severe hardships occasioned by his low birth and station on the rugged American frontier of 1805, he would go on to fulfil a mission ordained of Jesus Christ and foreseen by prophets of old. He would become the Prophet of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, a period foreseen by none other than Peter of old (Acts 3:21), and the Apostle Paul (Eph. 1:10).
The baby born this day two hundred years ago would be called on by God the Father and Jesus Christ while still a boy to be the Prophet assigned to usher in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times and begin the work of the Restoration of All Things. He would go on to receive the literal visitations of resurrected prophets of past dispensations, delivering their priesthood keys unto him. Looking back now, we can declare that "[a]s far as our records show, he has given us more revealed truth than any prophet who has ever lived upon the face of the earth" (LeGrand Richards, "Call of the Prophets," Ensign, May 1981, 31).
Two or three days before he was murdered as a result of the work he was called to perform — like so many of the pophets of old — he stated that "I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD" (D&C 135:4). These are things that we think about when looking back, two hundred years after the birth of this Prophet, to whom we are eternally grateful for the truths about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the Lord chose to restore and reveal to us through him.
But people were also thinking of Joseph Smith three thousand years before he was born. During the fifth century before the birth of Jesus Christ, a faithful Jewish visionary and prophet named Nephi conveyed an ancient prophecy of none other than Joseph who was sold into Egypt regarding the latter-day mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
6 For Joseph [of Egypt] truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins.
7 Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me: A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins. And unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren, which shall be of great worth unto them, even to the bringing of them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers.
8 And I will give unto him a commandment that he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him. And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work.
9 And he shall be great like unto Moses, whom I have said I would raise up unto you, to deliver my people, O house of Israel.
10 And Moses will I raise up, to deliver thy people out of the land of Egypt.
11 But a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins—and not to the bringing forth my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them.
12 Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.
13 And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.
14 And thus prophesied Joseph, saying: Behold, that seer will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise, which I have obtained of the Lord, of the fruit of my loins, shall be fulfilled. Behold, I am sure of the fulfilling of this promise;
15 And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.
16 Yea, thus prophesied Joseph: I am sure of this thing, even as I am sure of the promise of Moses; for the Lord hath said unto me, I will preserve thy seed forever.
17 And the Lord hath said: I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing. Yet I will not loose his tongue, that he shall speak much, for I will not make him mighty in speaking. But I will write unto him my law, by the finger of mine own hand; and I will make a spokesman for him.
18 And the Lord said unto me also: I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins; and I will make for him a spokesman. And I, behold, I will give unto him that he shall write the writing of the fruit of thy loins, unto the fruit of thy loins; and the spokesman of thy loins shall declare it.
19 And the words which he shall write shall be the words which are expedient in my wisdom should go forth unto the fruit of thy loins. And it shall be as if the fruit of thy loins had cried unto them from the dust; for I know their faith.
20 And they shall cry from the dust; yea, even repentance unto their brethren, even after many generations have gone by them. And it shall come to pass that their cry shall go, even according to the simpleness of their words.
21 Because of their faith their words shall proceed forth out of my mouth unto their brethren who are the fruit of thy loins; and the weakness of their words will I make strong in their faith, unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers.
22 And now, behold, my son Joseph, after this manner did my father of old prophesy.
23 Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art ablessed; for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book.
24 And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren. (2 Ne. 3:6-24.)
Nephi not only reported this ancient prophecy of Joseph of Egypt, but he also recorded his own vision given to him by the Lord in the fifth century B.C. concerning these events:
35 For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb.
36 And in them shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and my salvation.
37 And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting gkingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.
38 And it came to pass that I beheld the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the book of the Lamb of God, which had proceeded forth from the mouth of the Jew, that it came forth from the Gentiles unto the remnant of the seed of my brethren.
39 And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.
40 And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved. (1 Ne. 13:35-40.)
Part of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith was to bring forth some of these "last records," which "establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb," by translating the ancient record that we know as the Book of Mormon, a history of the dealings of the Lord Jesus Christ with some of the people on the American continent whom the Lord had led out of Jerusalem before the Babylonian exile. The fruits of the Prophet Joseph Smith — the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price — serve no other purpose than to "make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved" (1 Ne. 13:40).
Today, two hundred years after the birth of this great Prophet, we take the same comfort in the fact that the Lord knew that "out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people" that was surely taken by the recipients of this prophecy approximately three thousand years ago (2 Ne. 3:13). Now, with the Lord’s latter-day Apostles, we can confidently say that "[w]hatever the world may think of the Prophet Joseph Smith, there is the statement of the Lord [in 2 Ne. 3:8] that [Joseph Smith] would be great in His eyes" (Richards, Ensign, May 1981, 31, quoting 2 Nephi 3:8 ("And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work")).
Whoever is great in the Lord’s eyes may rightly be honored among the Lord’s followers. Today, we celebrate the Lord’s Prophet of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. In doing so, we honor Jesus Christ, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph [Smith].