Joseph Smith, whose name is appended to the Articles of Faith, is the prophet and revelator through whom was restored to earth the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in these the last days, the dispensation of the fulness of times, declared and predicted by prophets in earlier dispensations. The question of Joseph Smith’s divine commission is a challenging one to the world today. If his claims to a divine appointment be false, forming as they do the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the Mormon Church) in this the last dispensation, the superstructure cannot be stable; if, however, his avowed ordination under the hands of heavenly personages be a fact, one need search no farther for the cause of the phenomenal vitality and continuous development of the restored Church of Jesus Christ.
The circumstances of the divine dealings with Joseph Smith, the marvelous enlargement of the work instituted by this latter-day prophet, the fulfilment through his instrumentality of many of the momentous predictions of old, and his own prophetic utterances with their literal realizations, will yet be widely acknowledged as proof conclusive of the validity of his ministry. The exalted claims maintained for him and his life’s work, the fame that has made his name known for good or evil among most of the civilized nations of the earth, the stability of the religious and social systems that owe their origin as nineteenth-century establishments to the ministrations of this man, give to him an individual importance demanding serious and impartial consideration.
His Parentage and Youth—Joseph Smith Jr. , the third son and fourth child in a family of ten, was born December 23, 1805, at Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. He was the son of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith, a worthy couple, who though in poverty lived happily amid their home scenes of industry and frugality. When the boy Joseph was ten years old, the family left Vermont and settled in the State of New York, first at Palmyra and later at Manchester. At the place last named, the future prophet spent most of his boyhood days. In common with his brothers and sisters he had but little schooling; and for the simple rudiments of an education, which by earnest application he was able to gain, he was mostly indebted to his parents, who followed the rule of devoting a portion of their limited leisure to the teaching of the younger members of the household.
In their religious inclinations the family favored the Presbyterian church; indeed the mother and some of the children joined that sect; but Joseph Smith, while at one time favorably impressed by the Methodists, kept himself free from all sectarian membership, being greatly perplexed over the strife and dissensions manifest among the churches of the time. He had a right to expect that in the Church of Christ there would be unity and harmony; yet he saw among the wrangling sects only confusion. When Joseph was in his fifteenth year the region of his home was visited by a storm of fierce religious excitement, which, beginning with the Methodists, soon became general among all the sects; there were revivals and protracted meetings, and discreditable exhibitions of sectarian rivalry were many and varied. These conditions added much to the distress of the young man earnestly seeking the truth.