The noted ecclesiastical historian Mosheim wrote of the fourth century, “The rites and institutions, by which the Greeks, Romans, and other nations, had formerly testified their religious veneration for fictitious deities, were now adopted, with some slight alterations by Christian bishops, and employed in the service of the true God.” (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, Century 4, Part 2, chap 4:1, 4) The Church of Christ was gone!
It was to be restored in the latter days. “I saw another 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.” (Rev. 14:6) Enter Joseph Smith. There was only one that claimed a restoration: Joseph Smith. In 1820, when he was 15 years old, he had a keen interest in religion. There was a great excitement over religion where he lived--each claiming to be right. He was determined to find out which was true. After reading the Epistle of James “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,” Joseph decided to take the matter to God in prayer. He went into the woods where he could be alone and poured out his heart to God. Two personages appeared to him and one of them said, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” He was told: “they were all wrong and their creeds were an abomination in his sight… they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” They forbade him from joining any of them. “I had now, got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned.” Here is Joseph’s own account of this vision. 1. Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession. 2. In this history I shall present the various events in relation to this Church, in truth and righteousness, as they have transpired, or as they at present exist, being now  the eighth year since the organization of the said Church. 3. I was born in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five, on the twenty-third day of December, in the town of Sharon, Windsor county, State of Vermont. … My father, Joseph Smith, Sen., left the State of Vermont, and moved to Palmyra, Ontario (now Wayne) county, in the State of New York, when I was in my tenth year, or thereabouts. In about four years after my father’s arrival in Palmyra, he moved with his family into Manchester in the same county of Ontario— 4. His family consisting of eleven souls, namely, my father, Joseph Smith; my mother, Lucy Smith (whose name, previous to her marriage, was Mack, daughter of Solomon Mack); my brothers, Alvin (who died November 19th, 1823, in the 26th year of his age), Hyrum, myself, Samuel Harrison, William, Don Carlos; and my sisters, Sophronia, Catherine, and Lucy. 5. Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist. 6. For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions. 7. I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia. 8. During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was bright and who was wrong. 9. My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others. 10. In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: 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? 11. While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, 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. 12. Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. 13. 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. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. 14. 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.
15. 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. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. 16. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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!
18. My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
20. He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.” It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?”(Pearl of Great Price, James E. Talmage, 1902)
In 1823, after intense prayer, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him of a book that was deposited containing the record of ancient inhabitants of this land that were a branch of the House of Israel and was given a vision of where they were deposited. This Moroni (son of Mormon) visited him two more times and quoted him many things from scripture. He went to where the plates were deposited and opened them. The angel told him it would be four years before he could take them.
In 1827, the plates were entrusted to his care. In 1829, he commenced translating them. Only a part of them were translated. It became the Book of Mormon published in 1830. This was the first time that a correct knowledge of God and Jesus was restored to the earth.
In May, 1829, he went into the woods with his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, to pray over the priesthood they had learned about in the book. The angel appeared to them and instructed them how to be baptized. Next, they were instructed how to be ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood—the same priesthood held by John the Baptist. It was essential for Joseph to be ordained a prophet and have liaison with Jesus and receive the laws of God. “I saw another 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.” (Rev. 14:6) No one can minister the gospel without holding the Melchizedek Priesthood. Jesus could not begin His ministry until being ordained to this priesthood. After being baptized and spending forty days in the wilderness “Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” (Matt. 4:11)
What did they minister? Jesus was ordained a prophet like Moses under the hands of God. “4. And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. 5. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he [the Father] that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee… 10. Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.” (Heb. 5:10) This priesthood can only be given through prophecy and ordination by one holding that priesthood of God. Paul reminded his son Timothy of this law. “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy.” (1 Tim. 4:14)
In June, 1829, Joseph was ordained a Prophet and Lawgiver of the Melchisedec Priesthood under the hands of angels who held that priesthood in life. Since that priesthood had been lost for at least 1,260 years it could only be restored through angelic administration like Jesus in mortal life. The priesthood of God and the gospel were once again restored to the earth. The Church of Jesus Christ was officially organized on April 6, 1830. The gate into the kingdom of God was opened.
In 1830, the first edition of the Book of Mormon was printed. In the words of Joseph: “The Book of Mormon: an account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi. Wherefore it is an abridgment of the Record of the People of Nephi; and also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the House of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of Prophesy and of Revelation. Written, and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed; to come forth by the gift and power of God, unto the interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of God; an abridgement taken from the Book of Ether. Also, which is a record of the People of Jared, which were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to Heaven; which is to shew unto the remnant of the House of Israel, how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever: and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile, that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations. And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, they may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.”
Joseph received many revelations and much instruction from on high on the will and laws of God. In 1833, He printed the first “Book of Commandments for the government of the Church of Christ.” In 1835, the official book of “Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints” was printed. Part One was “Theology” and included Joseph’s lectures on Faith and God. The church with headquarters in Utah eliminated this part in their editions because Brigham taught God was once a man like us—even Adam. Part Two was “Covenants and Commandments of the Lord.” A facsimile edition was printed in 1978; but has been out of print for many years. A modern type set edition was printed by Samuel E. West in 2000. Copies are available. On December 30, 1842, Joseph Smith commented, “If any person should ask me if I were a prophet, I should not deny it, as that would give me the lie; for, according to John, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy [Rev. 19:10]; therefore, if I profess to be a witness or teacher, and have not the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I must be a false witness; but if I be a true teacher and witness, I must possess the spirit of prophecy, and that constitutes a prophet; and any man who says he is a teacher or a preacher of righteousness, and denies the spirit of prophecy, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” He taught of the same true and living God and in Jesus Christ as taught in the Bible. “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. We believe a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, viz., apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelist, etc. We believe in the Bible as far as it is translated correctly.” “Joseph Smith opposes vice and error, and supports his positions from revelation: no odds whether there be two, three, or ‘Gods many.’ The Father, and the Son are persons of Tabernacle [have a physical body]; and the Holy Ghost a spirit, besides the sons of God: for the scriptures say: ‘Ye are Gods.’” (Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, p. 926) He taught the same gospel as Jesus and the Apostles. “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Joseph Smith taught of the same gifts given to the latter day saints (including visitation of angels, healings, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost) which the former day saints enjoyed. “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.” The official History of the Church records these were present among the latter day saints. Recent events demonstrate they are still present. Joseph Smith taught that it was necessary to not only believe in God and honor Jesus as our Savior; but that we must live by the will and law of God. “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul--We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Kirtland, Ohio was given by God for the first gathering of the people. Next, Independence, Missouri was given as the central stake of Zion. The saints were driven out of Missouri because their life style conflicted with that of ruffians on the border of civilization. The governor of Missouri issued an extermination order demanding they either forsake their religion, move out of the state, or be killed. Many were beaten and some were killed. They migrated to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they built one of the largest and certainly the most law-abiding city in the west. The Bible foretold of two prophets and two works that would come forth in the latter days. "Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph [Book of Mormon], which is in the hand of Ephraim [Joseph Smith], and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah [the Book of the Law of the Lord translated by James J. Strang of the tribe of Judah], and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand." (Ezek. 37:19). Joseph received four revelations from God that that he would die in office—the first only a year after the church was organized. In the event of his impending death, he was to appoint “another” in his place and that successor would have to be ordained under the hands of angels like himself. “4 But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him; for if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead. 5 And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments; 6 And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. 7 For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 43, Feb. 1841, Utah Edition) The Missouri mob followed the saints from Illinois. On June 13. 1844, a mob of 300 gathered at Nauvoo. The Missouri mob had followed them—with 1500 Missourians joining the mob on June 17. On June 18, 1844, nine days before his death, Joseph Smith wrote (in fulfillment of the law) a Letter of Appointment to James J. Strang in Burlington, Wisconsin. It was mailed the next day. He noted “I have long felt that my present work was almost done, and that I should soon be called to rule a mighty host, but something whispers me it will be in the land of spirits, where the wicked cease from troubling and the bands of the prisoner fall off… The wolves are upon the scent, and I am waiting to be offered up, if such be the will of God… The Almighty came from his throne of rest. He clothed himself with light as with a garment. He appeared, and moon and stars went out. The earth dissolved in space. I trod on air, and was borne on wings of Cherubims. The sweetest strains of heavenly music thrilled in my ear, but the notes were low and sad as though they sounded the requiem of martyred Prophets… And now behold my servant James J. Strang hath come to thee from far for truth when he knew it not, and hath not rejected it, but had faith in thee, the Shepherd and Stone of Israel, and to him shall the gathering of the people be, for he shall plant a stake of Zion in Wisconsin… And now I command my servants, the Apostles and Priests and Elders of the church of the Saints, that they communicate and proclaim this my word to all the Saints of God in all the world, that they may be gathered unto and round about my city of Voree… So spake the Almighty God of heaven. Thy duty is made plain, and if thou lackest wisdom, ask of God, in whose hands I trust thee, and he shall give thee unsparingly; for if evil befall me, thou shalt lead the flock to pleasant pastures. God sustain thee. Joseph Smith.” On June 20th, Joseph Smith wrote all twelve Apostles to return at once to Nauvoo. Ten of the Twelve were away from Nauvoo. On June 24th, eighteen persons, including Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were taken by warrant of Governor Ford to Carthage Illinois. Joseph wrote he was going like a lamb to the slaughter. The next morning Governor Ford pledged the faith of the State that they should be protected. Their hearing was continued until June 29th. On the morning of June 27th, the Governor disbanded the troops (so Joseph could be killed) and left Joseph Smith and associates to be guarded by eight men at the jail (with a mob of 60 men in town). On June 27th, at about six o’clock in the afternoon the guard was surprised by an armed mob of from 150 to 250 men painted red, black, and yellow. They surrounded the jail and murdered both Joseph and Hyrum Smith; both being shot four times. This under the sworn protection of (Illinois) Governor Ford. Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered in cold blood. The same hour that Joseph was killed about 5:30 in the afternoon, James J. Strang claimed that an angel of the Lord came to him and ordained him to the prophetic office to succeed Joseph Smith. He lived more than four hundred miles from Nauvoo. It was not possible (even if Strang had conspired with men in Nauvoo) to know of Joseph Smith’s murder. Much less to the hour. There was no such means of communication. He announced this ordination to several in Burlington that night. James wrote about his ordination: “And at the same moment in which Joseph was slain I was visited by an Angel of God, accompanied by a numerous heavenly train, and anointed and ordained to the Prophetic Office, as Moses and Joseph had been before me. On July 9, 1844, the first official news of Joseph’s death came when the Letter of Appointment was delivered by regular mail. It was recorded by the Post Offices in Chicago and Burlington. It has been proven beyond a doubt to have been signed by Joseph. Joseph’s foretelling of his death in office, his impending death, and James claiming ordination under the hands of angels the same hour as his death, are prophetic in their own right.
Enter James J. Strang