The Work of God Rolls Forward

The Prophet’s Legacy


After the death of Joseph Smith, senior Apostle Brigham Young,1 supported by the Quorum of the Twelve, stepped forward to lead the Church. At a meeting on August 8, 1844, Brigham addressed the Saints. “His manner and appearance were like Joseph’s and it was manifest to all those present upon whom the responsibility rested to carry on the work of God and lead the Saints.”2

The Prophet Joseph had spent the winter of 1844 teaching the Apostles and a few others the things of the kingdom of God. “He was so constant in his labors that they were very anxious, wondering why he should be so untiring.”3 Wilford Woodruff4 recalled, “Upon our shoulders he [Joseph Smith] rolled the burden of the Kingdom, and he gave us all the keys and powers and gifts to carry on this great and mighty work.”5 President Russell M. Nelson,6 prophet, seer, and revelator, holds those priesthood keys today as he leads the Church and serves as the Lord’s mouthpiece.

If the members of the Church uphold and support their leaders, Joseph Smith prophesied, “The Lord [will] bless them; yea, in the name of Christ, the blessings of heaven [shall] be theirs.”7


Joseph Smith Quotes

“I have had sealed upon my head every key, every power, every principle of life and salvation that God has ever given to any man who ever lived upon the face of the earth. And these principles and this Priesthood and power belong to this great and last dispensation which the God of heaven has set His hand to establish in the earth. Now, . . . I have sealed upon your [the Twelve] heads every key, every power, and every principle which the Lord has sealed upon my head. . . . I tell you, the burden of this kingdom now rests upon your shoulders; you have got to bear it off in all the world, and if you don't do it you will be damned” (Millennial Star, Aug. 22, 1892, 530; paragraph divisions altered).

“Brethren [members of the Quorum of the Twelve], the Lord bids me hasten the work in which we are engaged. . . . Some important scene is near to take place. It may be that my enemies will kill me. And in case they should and the keys and power which rest on me not be imparted to you, they will be lost from the earth. But if I can only succeed in placing them upon your heads, then let me fall a victim to murderous hands if God will suffer it, and I can go with all pleasure and satisfaction, knowing that my work is done, and the foundation laid on which the kingdom of God is to be reared in this dispensation of the fulness of times” (in Declaration of the Twelve, Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–1878, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; spelling, punctuation, and capitalization modernized).


Wilford Woodruff, Fourth President of the Church, 1889–1898

“The prophet Joseph was moved upon by divine inspiration in the establishment of this Church. And before his death he called the Twelve Apostles together, whom he had called to the ministry by revelation, intimating that he was going to leave them, that he would shortly be called home to rest. And he talked with them and instructed them for weeks and months in the ordinances and laws of the gospel; and he sealed upon their heads all the priesthood, keys and powers that had been conferred upon him by the angels of God. And then, in addressing them he said, ‘Brethren, no matter what becomes of me, or what my fate may be, you have got to round up your shoulders and bear off this kingdom; the God of heaven requires it at your hands. I have desired,’ said he, ‘to see the Temple completed, but I shall not be spared to see it, but you will’” (Deseret News, Mar. 27, 1878, 114).

John Taylor, Third President of the Church, 1880–1887; Willard Richards, Apostle, 1840–54

“‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ They died for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

“God has not left his church without witnesses; as in former days, so shall it be in the latter days, when one falls another will arise to occupy a similar station. Our heavenly Father always has had a leader to his people, always will have, and the gates of hell can never prevail against the chosen of heaven.

“The murder of Joseph will not stop the work; it will not stop the Temple; it will not stop the gathering; it will not stop the honest-in-heart from believing the truth and obeying it; but it is a proof of the revelations we have received from heaven through him” (History of the Church, 7:174).


How and when did Brigham Young become the President of the Church?

Brigham Young was ordained an Apostle on February 14, 1835, in Kirtland, Ohio. Brigham Young was sustained as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on April 14, 1840. Then, in the spring of 1844, Joseph conveyed to the Twelve the responsibility to carry the work forward, reaffirming that the keys and authority would remain with them after his death. With the dissolution of the First Presidency at the death of the Prophet Joseph, Brigham Young became the presiding high priest of the Church. The First Presidency was reorganized on December 5 and sustained by the body of the Church on December 27, 1847.

Is it true that Brigham Young took on the appearance of Joseph Smith?

At a Church conference held August 8, 1844, Brigham Young addressed the Saints on succession in Church leadership. Many accounts tell that Brigham's voice and appearance became like Joseph's. One example comes from a close friend of the Prophet Joseph, Benjamin F. Johnson. "I jumped upon my feet," he wrote of this experience, "for in every possible degree it was Joseph's voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance was Joseph himself, personified; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon [Brigham Young]" (My Life's Review [1947], 104).

Who has served as President of the Church since Joseph Smith?

President Gordon B. Hinckley is the fifteenth President of the Church. Those who followed Joseph, in order, are Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, and Gordon B. Hinckley.


Online Resources at

"The Twelve to Bear Off the Kingdom" – Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System Manual, 2003), 286–96

"The Mantle of the Prophet Rested on Him" – Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Church Educational System Manual, 2003), 30

"Nauvoo under Apostolic Leadership" – Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 297–307

"Succession in the Presidency" – Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996), 66–67

"Organization of the Camp of Zion" – Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (Church Educational System Manual, 2001), 350–53

Online Resources at BYU

"The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: A Collective Spiritual Witness" –

Over 100 first and secondhand accounts of the mantle experience.

Lynne Watkins Jorgensen, Brigham Young University Studies 36, no. 4 (1996–97): 125–204