Whenever God has had a message for His children, He has sent that message through a prophet. When the Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, the Lord called Moses—speaking “unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11)—to lead the people out of captivity, through the Sinai wilderness, and into a promised land. When the people He had delivered so miraculously eventually wandered after the false god Baal, God called Elijah—speaking to him with a “still small voice” (I Kings 19:12)—to contend with the priests of Baal, call fire from the heavens, and demonstrate that there is but one true God. When the city of Jerusalem was faced with an Assyrian army from without and with a false, apathetic faith from within, the Lord called Isaiah—appearing to him and asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8)—to bring the people to repentance, teach them about God’s power and mercy, and prophesy of their ultimate physical and spiritual redemption. Indeed, the Bible shows that “the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
This pattern is evident even in the New Testament. Before God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, He revealed that secret through John the Baptist, whose commission was to prepare the people for the ministry of the Son of God, to be the “voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Matthew 3:3). Before the gospel was preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, the Lord revealed to Peter that the gospel of Christ was for all people everywhere, prompting the chief apostle to say, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Thus, the church that Christ had organized before His death and resurrection continued the work of salvation that He had inaugurated. Christ’s Church was founded upon the rock of revelation, with Peter being the only one authorized to receive that revelation in order to direct the great mission of the Church. Of course, the apostles were entitled to revelation to help execute their duty of carrying out the mission of the Church, and countless others were touched by revelation when they recognized truth in the gospel message and entered the Church through baptism. But the Lord will do nothing without revealing His secret unto His prophet, and it was only in Peter’s office that the Lord had vested the authority to receive revelation for the Church as a whole.
Unfortunately, the people at those times wandered from the truth just as their forebears had. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul commented, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7). Just as violently as those who opposed truth had rejected the Savior of the World, they began to reject His servants and the gospel they preached. While the people of the earth martyred the Lord’s servants and mocked and corrupted His gospel, the Lord quietly withdrew from humankind the power and authority to direct His Church and to preach His gospel. The Lord then withheld His voice from the earth and waited for a time when His children would seek to hear it again.
Thus came the days which the ancient prophets foresaw when they said that the people “shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:12), the days when the “people [drew] near unto [the Lord] with their mouth, and with their lips [did] honour [him], but [had] removed their heart far from [Him]” (Isaiah 29:13). Without God’s authorized servants on the earth and with the consequent lack of revelation from heaven, the people wandered, and they lost the simple truths that had been taught by Christ and His apostles. Even though some sincerely sought the way of the Lord and were willing to lay down their lives to preserve His word and spread it abroad, countless others were engaged in corrupting, doctoring, and obscuring the simplest truths of salvation. Eventually, doctrinal issues in Christendom were settled by appeals to popular priestly opinion, theological methodologies, and what little precedent could be gleaned from the Biblical records—rather than by prophetic revelation.
Of course, God was not content to leave the world and His children in that state of spiritual darkness. While they wandered in their faith, He was actively preparing a way to restore the plain fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to call anew an authorized prophet, and to recommence in earnest the work of salvation—to keep the promise He had made through Isaiah when he said: “[B]ehold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (Isaiah 29:14).
After nearly two thousand years of confusion among His children, the Lord moved to reveal the secret of the coming Restoration to a new prophet, one who, to the world’s eyes, was anything but qualified for his calling. Eventually, the confusion of Christendom culminated, it seems, in the cacophony of competing creeds that were sounded high and low in Palmyra, New York in 1820. Reflecting on the excitement that surrounded him when he was only fourteen, Joseph Smith described it as “a scene of great confusion” in which good feelings between the churches were “entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest of opinion.” In the midst of that confusion, Joseph wondered, “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” With those questions in mind, he consulted the local pastors and preachers and searched the Bible for answers but found little to indicate which church he was to join.
Finally, he came upon the fifth verse of the first chapter of James, which reads: “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.” Joseph later recorded, “At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.” Dissatisfied with the accumulated confusions of the past millennia and with the answers that good—albeit uninspired—men had given him in his search for truth, Joseph decided to take the issue directly to God. He wrote:
So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally. After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God.
Joseph Smith knelt to pray with the sincere desire to discover the will of God and with the sincere commitment to do whatever God revealed to him. With the desire to know which church was the true church of Christ, he could never have expected what happened in response to his humble supplication. He wrote:
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me…. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
When it was time for the Father to restore the fulness of the gospel and organize anew the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, He called Joseph Smith—by appearing to him with His Son in a quiet grove—to direct the organization of the Church through revelation, bring to light another sacred testament of Jesus Christ, and teach the world the way to live in order to return with their families to live forever in God’s presence.
It is my testimony that Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in that grove that morning. In response to his simple question, They told him that the Church of Jesus Christ could not be found on the earth and that he was not to join any of the then-existing churches. In those sacred moments, God put in motion His marvelous work and wonder—a work by which the small and simple faith of a fourteen-year-old boy was a tool in God’s hands to reopen the heavens and bring about the great restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its pure fulness.
After his initial meeting with the Father and the Son, Joseph Smith faced serious persecution that continued throughout his life. Nevertheless, he refused to deny his testimony, for, as he said, “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it….” As he continued to follow the guidance of God, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a record of Christ’s dealings with an ancient American people; received visits from Peter, James, and John, Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist in order to receive from them the prophetic authority to lead the Church; and organized again a quorum of Twelve Apostles to direct the work of preaching salvation to the ends of the earth. Since that time, the authority that was restored through Joseph Smith has continued in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even today, a prophet of God walks the earth, revealing to the world the word and will of God. The current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, is that prophet.
When the scribes and Pharisees challenged Christ’s authority and teachings, He responded, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). It is by that key that I know that Thomas S. Monson is God’s prophet on the earth today: by applying his counsels and living his teachings, I have come to know through my own experience that his word is God’s word. I have come to know that God yet speaks and that His word will always point us to happiness and security in these most “perilous times” (II Timothy 3:1).