As Joseph Smith left Nauvoo for Carthage, Illinois, his earthly ministry nearing its end, he looked back at the half-finished temple and at the homes and farms. “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens,” he said (History of the Church, 6:554). He had worked with them, encouraged and taught them, mourned for their losses, and felt their jubilation.
The Lord had revealed much through His first prophet of the Restoration to help guide the people in His ways. “If you wish to go where God is,” Joseph had earlier admonished, “you must be like God. . . . For if we are not drawing towards God in principle, we are going from Him” (History of the Church, 4:588). Through Joseph’s ministry, tens of thousands living on the American frontier, the East Coast, Canada, and the British Isles had come to the knowledge of the truth, had taken the name of Jesus Christ upon them, and had received the Holy Ghost.
Now, with Joseph gone, the building of the kingdom of God fell on the Saints’ shoulders. They had the earlier assurance of Joseph, “By the help of the Almighty, we shall go on from victory to victory” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 179).
Joseph Smith Quotes
“The great Jehovah contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth, pertaining to the plan of salvation, before it rolled into existence, or ever ‘the morning stars sang together’ for joy; the past, the present, and the future were and are, with Him, one eternal ‘now.’ . . . He comprehended the fall of man, and his redemption; He knew the plan of salvation and pointed it out. . . . He knows the situation of both the living and the dead, and has made ample provision for their redemption, according to their several circumstances, and the laws of the kingdom of God, whether in this world, or in the world to come” (History of the Church, 4:597).
“The exaltation and happiness of any community, goes hand in hand with the knowledge possessed by the people, when applied to laudable ends; whereupon we can exclaim like the wise man; righteousness exalteth a nation; for righteousness embraces knowledge and knowledge is power” (Times and Seasons, Aug. 15, 1842, 889).
“We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him” (History of the Church, 2:8).
Eliza R. Snow, General Relief Society President, 1866–1887
Now Zion mourns—she mourns an earthly head;
The Prophet and the Patriarch are dead!
The blackest deed that men or devils know
Since Calv’ry’s scene, has laid the brothers low!
One in their life, and one in death—they prov’d
How strong their friendship—how they truly lov’d
True to their mission, until death, they stood,
Then seal’d their testimony with their blood. (In Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo (2002), 380.)
Wilford Woodruff, Fourth President of the Church, 1889–1898
“Joseph Smith himself, only fourteen years after the Church was organized, was martyred. He had his blood shed, as a testimony of the truth of his mission. I have traveled with Joseph Smith many hundred miles. I have also traveled with Brigham Young and the Apostles, and I have never had any doubts with regard to the truth and final triumph of this work. I have none today” (Deseret News, Aug. 17, 1889, 225).
Did Joseph Smith have a final message for the Saints?
Just days before his death, Joseph encouraged the faithful:
“Stand firm, my friends; never flinch. . . .
“God has tried you. You are a good people; therefore I love you with all my heart. Greater love hath no man than that he should lay down his life for his friends. You have stood by me in the hour of trouble, and I am willing to sacrifice my life for your preservation” (History of the Church, 6:500).
Did Joseph know he would not return from Carthage?
Some of Joseph’s closest associates had heard him say: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; 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” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:4). Two days before they left Nauvoo, Hyrum similarly prophesied, “Just as sure as we fall into their hands we are dead men” (History of the Church, 6:545).
How did the Saints feel about continuing the work of the kingdom without Joseph?
“Be assured, brethren and sisters,” encouraged William W. Phelps, in his funeral address for Joseph and Hyrum, “this desperate ‘smite’ of our foes to stop the onward course of Mormonism, will increase its spread and rapidity an hundred fold” (in Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, “The Joseph/Hyrum Smith Funeral Sermon,” BYU Studies, vol. 23, no. 1 (1983), 7; spelling and punctuation modernized).
Online Resources at ChurchofJesusChrist.org
“The Twelve to Bear Off the Kingdom”—Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 286–96