(Part fifteen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
President Romney is much less well-known in the Church today than he once was. He served as a counselor to both President’s Lee and Kimball, but the effects of age drastically diminished his capabilities the last years of his life. Elder Glen L. Rudd, one of his associates in the Church Welfare Program, wrote this of him: “Elder Romney was the most rigid and difficult man at first until I had been with him on two trips and realized that he had built a solid wall around himself and was hard to get to [know] but when he and I finally got on good terms, he turned out of be one of the easiest of all the Brethren for me to talk to. . . . Elder Romney was a remarkable man—much greater than most people thought. He and Elder Lee knew the Book of Mormon better than anyone. President Romney told me his door was always open and I could come at any time to visit him. Toward the last years of his life I would visit with him often and get him to tell me stories about his youth and the great leaders of the Church he knew.” I concur with the statement that President Romney was a greater spiritual giant in the Church than people of his or our generation generally realize:
As he revealed himself after his resurrection to his followers in the Holy Land and to the Nephites in America, so he has revealed himself in our day. Indeed, this dispensation opened with a glorious vision in which the Prophet Joseph was visited by the Father and the Son. He heard their voices, for they both spoke to him. He was given a personal introduction to the resurrected Jesus by the Father himself. He beheld their glorious bodies and afterwards thus described them: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also.” (D&C 130:22.)
I know that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know he saw God, the Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, as he says he did. I was not there, but I have read his account many, many, many times. From his account I get in my mind a mental picture, but I did not get my knowledge that he had the vision from that source. I received it from the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, and I have had those whisperings in my mind the same as Enos had when he said, “. . . the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10). (Conference Report, April 1953, 123-25.)
Notwithstanding the oft-repeated teaching in holy writ of the nature of God and man’s relationship to him, men’s understanding thereof remained darkened. To remove every vestige of excuse for ignorance in the matter, God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, in the spring of 1820 in New York State, revealed themselves anew. This they did for the sake of the whole world. Whatever doubts can conceivably arise from other accounts concerning the form and nature of God were cleared up by this superb theophany. Two heavenly persons in a pillar of light stood before the boy prophet, Joseph Smith. One of them spoke, calling Joseph “by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith 2:17). The Son conversed with the Prophet. Later the Prophet described God as an exalted man. “The Father,” said he, “has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also” (D&C 130:22).
With respect to God and his form and nature, this is final truth. To seal his testimony of it, Joseph Smith gave his life’s blood in martyrdom. His Testimony is binding upon all men.
Some people have said that Joseph Smith was an unlearned man. He was an unlearned man in the things of the world, but the day he came out of the grove, following the first vision, he was the most learned person in the world in the things that count. When he came out of that grove, he knew more than all the world put together about the great question of the resurrection, which had been argued from the time man began to think seriously, because he had seen standing before him, the resurrected Christ. When he came out of that grove, he knew more about the nature of God than all the world. There had been many books written; philosophers had spent their lives trying to find out the nature of God, but when God took Joseph in hand to teach him he cut through all material things and taught Joseph the truth about these and many other important things. . . .
There are two sources, and as far as I know only two sources, from which we may expect to gain guidance that will safely bring us through. One source is through our righteous living, so that we can have the dictates of the Holy Spirit, and the other source is from the words spoken by the men whom we shall sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators here in this conference.
And who was Joseph Smith, Jr.? He was none other than God's great prophet of the restoration.
At the head of every gospel dispensation the Lord has placed one of his mighty sons—Adam, Noah, Abraham, for example. Jesus Christ, himself, stood at the head of the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time. Joseph Smith, Jr., than whom none of these save Jesus only was greater, was appointed and ordained in the heavens to head this last and greatest dispensation, the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, into which, as rivers into a mighty ocean, flow all former dispensations. Joseph Smith was and is to modern Israel what Moses was to ancient Israel, leader, law-giver, prophet, seer, and revelator.
You will recall that John the Beloved saw in vision an ". . . angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." (Revelation 14:6.) Joseph Smith was the person to whom that angel came.
Born of humble parents, he lived less than thirty-nine years. In June 1844, he died a martyr, sealing with his own blood his witness to the truth, even the gospel of Jesus Christ, which through him God had restored to earth for the benefit of all men.
This gospel has often been spoken of as a way of life. This however is not quite accurate. Consisting as it does of the principles and ordinances necessary to man's exaltation it is not just a way of life, it is the one and only way of life by which men may accomplish the full purpose of their mortality.
The gospel begins with God and man's relationship to him.
In the early 1800's, the days of the Prophet's youth, no living man had a correct understanding of God. Professed believers knew no more about him than did the Athenians who posted inscriptions to the "Unknown God."
Stirred by a religious revival, moved with a sincere desire to know which, if any, of the contending sects was right and relying upon the promise of James that, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5), Joseph Smith in simple faith and earnest prayer sought wisdom from God.
The time was spring, 1820. Joseph was then in his fourteenth year.
The place was Palmyra, Western New York state.
The result: God the Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared to him. "I saw two Personages," he said, "whose brightness and glory defy all description." These two Personages spoke to him and called him by name. He heard their voices and asked them questions. They gave him answer. (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:17.)
When he came out of that sacred interview he knew with certainty the nature of God. He had seen and conversed with him. From him he had received a personal introduction to his resurrected Son Jesus Christ.
In after years Joseph referred to God as an "exalted man," and said that both he and the Son were personages of flesh and bone, as tangible as man. (D & C 130:22.)
Through subsequent revelations he learned that the relationship between God and men is that of parent and children. "The inhabitants" of the "worlds" . . . "are begotten sons and daughters unto God," said the Lord to him in one of the revelations. (Ibid., 76:24.)
The Prophet further learned through communication from heaven that as the begotten children of God we are endowed with the potential to become like him, even as mortal children may become like their mortal parents. He came to understand the high ideal projected by the Savior, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48.)
Not only did Joseph Smith receive through divine revelation knowledge concerning God, man's relationship to him, the doctrine of eternal progression, and all the other glorious principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ upon obedience to which man's exaltation is conditioned, he was also divinely commissioned to organize, and again establish upon earth, the Church of Jesus Christ; the organization through which these principles and ordinances can be authoritatively taught and administered. To enable him to do so he was endowed with the Holy Priesthood which is delegated authority to act in the name of God.
John the Baptist, who held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood in the days of Jesus, now a resurrected person, came to earth and laid his hands upon the heads of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and conferred upon them "the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins." (D & C 13.)
Peter, James, and John, who as the presidency of Christ's Church in the apostolic dispensation held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, came and conferred this priesthood and the keys thereof upon Joseph and Oliver. Other holy beings delivered to them gospel keys which they had received and held in former dispensations. For example, in April of 1836, Moses committed unto. . . [them] the keys of the gathering of Israel . . ." and the restoration of the ten tribes. Elias ". . . committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham," and "Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before [them] . . . and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors." (Ibid., 110:11-16.) Thus was the gospel for the salvation of the dead restored.
Having thus received from heavenly beings the foregoing and other endowments, Joseph Smith the prophet and his associate Oliver Cowdery conferred them upon the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as they were directed by the Lord to do. Brigham Young, one of the original Twelve succeeded the Prophet Joseph as president of the Church. President David O. McKay, as already pointed out, is today the rightful successor to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He now holds all the priesthood, keys, and powers received by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Now, my beloved brothers and sisters and friends, it is our solemn obligation and great joy to testify to you that these things are so. They are not cunningly devised fables." They are realities of the utmost significance.