Literary DCGD #37: Lines suggested by reflections on Joseph Smith

September 22, 2013 | 3 comments
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In Mormonism our definition for the term Prophet is usually more specific than that employed outside of the Church. To us, a prophet is not only someone who has been inspired to prophesy, but it is also the president of the Church, the leader called to preside over the membership, the person who is to receive revelation for the Church, the chief teacher and the chief person who testifies of our Savior. There are other prophets, but we focus on THE Prophet.

We didn’t always mean this in quite the same way–at least before 1848 THE Prophet was Joseph Smith, who still occupies something of a special place among prophets. That is the position taken by the author of the following poem, but in the process of describing Joseph Smith, he also illuminates something of what it means to be THE Prophet.

This poem, written 3 years after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, is by William I. Appleby, a New Jersey native born in 1811. When he joined the Church in 1840 he was already a Justice of the Peace and Town Clerk in Recklesstown, New Jersey. Appleby jumped into the Church with both feet. He travelled to Nauvoo in 1841, met Joseph Smith, and returned home anxious to serve. He built up branches in central New Jersey, and was eventually named president of the Eastern States Mission, first temporarily in 1847, before he took his family to Utah in 1849, and then later returning to the East as the permanent mission president and immigration agent from 1865-1868. Throughout this service Appleby wrote in his journal with a dozen or more of his poems, and several, like this one, were published.

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Lines suggested by reflections on Joseph Smith

by W. I. Appleby

“Joseph, the Prophet of the Lord,” thy name to me is dear
And for thy absence now, I often shed the tender tear;
Call’d thou wast when young, thy faithfulness to prove,
To do the work agreed by thee, e’er thou left the courts above
On this terrestrial ball thou came, at the appointed time,
To do those works of might and power, and let thy wisdom shine;
To break the spell of darkness, the time had arriven,
To bring to light the truth, the way and plan of heav’n.
To burst tradition’s fetters, to relieve the oppress’d,
And prepare the earth for righteousness and everlasting rest;
An angel from on high is sent, the truth for to reveal,
A record of the gospel, that “Moroni’s” hand had sealed.
The Record is translanted—the humble doth rejoice—
God bears witness to the same, by his spirit and his voice;
Again the priesthood is restor’d—the church is organiz’d,
According to revelation, but by the world despis’d;
Built on the ancient pattern—a dispensation new.
Of apostles and prophets, and inspiration too.
Joseph, thy name’s evil spoken of, by great and by small,
But true unto thy God and cause, thou overcame them all,
And laid the foundation of a mighty work began,
For the redemption, salvation, and exaltation of man.
John the Baptist” first with the “Aaronic Priesthood” came,
Second, the Melchisedek, from Peter, John, and James,
Third, the “keys of restoration” by “Elias” they are giv’n,
By “Elijah” (fourth) the sealing keys, to seal on earth and heav’n.
And for these truths thy blood was shed, and laid thy body down,
But thou will rule a mighty host, and wear a martyr’s crown,
Millions shall know thou’rt a king—thy power they shall dread,
For by the priesthood thou wast crown’d, before thy blood was shed;
Thou’rt only passed behind the veil, to plead the cause above,
Of mourning, bleeding, Zion, which was thy daily love.
There, in the counsels of the just, before the throne of God,
Along with thy brother Hyrum, who fell with thee in blood!
Thou art the “Angel of the Church,” under Christ thy head,
Thou hast minister’d to it since thy death, by thy counsels it is led,
Thou wilt stand in thy place and lot in the resurrection morns,
With all the ancient worthies, whose brows a crown adorns,
At the head of thy dispensation thou ever thus will stand,
While less inferior spirits, shall bow at thy command,
“Joseph,” the “Saints” there will meet you, and brother Hyrum too,
Along with the “Twelve” apostles, who’ve faithful been and true,
With all the “Saints” in glory, forever there to reign,
Sealed with the Holy Priesthood. Eternal life. Amen.

Millennial Star, v9 n18, 15 September 1847, p. 286-287

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Perhaps the difficulty with this poem is determining what applies to Joseph Smith specifically, and what applies to prophets in general. Certainly we believe Appleby’s suggestion that Smith was “To bring to light the truth, the way and plan of heav’n” (i.e., revelation), and that this applies to all prophets. Likewise Appleby makes plain a prophet’s leadership, and his sealing power.

But it isn’t quite as clear if other things Appleby mentions are specific to Joseph Smith or to all prophets. The “keys of restoration” seem likely to be something exclusive to Joseph Smith, and perhaps most intriguingly, his suggestion that Joseph Smith has “minister’d to [the Church] since thy death, by thy counsels it is led” seems possible, but why? Is Appleby claiming that deceased prophets still lead until a new prophet is chosen? Or that Joseph Smith, as leader of this dispensation, still leads and counsels the Church today? In any case, I haven’t heard this idea mentioned enough to think it would be considered doctrine, instead of Appleby’s speculation, fascinating as it is.

Regardless of the speculation, Appleby’s “reflections” do illumnated a lot about the role and example of a prophet–and even THE Prophet.

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3 Responses to Literary DCGD #37: Lines suggested by reflections on Joseph Smith

  1. Amy T on September 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Back in the early 1990s I was serving as a missionary in a remote university town up in some western German mountains. The university students tended to be older and more sophisticated than many American students, and the experiences my companion and I were having were beyond amazing. Something was just right about the situation — the city and dormitories and student houses hadn’t been tracted in years, there was some sort of religious revival going on, and there wasn’t much else to do in town — and we were teaching dozens of discussions each week to German students as well as older foreign students in the country on fellowships; Turkish, Albanian, Brazilian, American, etc.

    One day we were invited in by a Chinese graduate student. We were teaching the first discussion in English and had to explain some of the words. We got to “prophet” and he didn’t know what it meant. So he pulled out his Chinese dictionary, opened it, and read out the two definitions: (1) someone teaching the will of God, and (2) Joseph Smith. That cleared everything up and we continued the discussion.

  2. Kent Larsen on September 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    WOW, Amy. That’s a great story.

    I wish I knew what Chinese dictionary that was.

    Of course, the Oxford English Dictionary does recognize our use of the term (the second in my post, i.e., THE Prophet) in sense 2(c) of its entry:

    Among Mormons: Joseph Smith (1805–44), the founder and first leader of the Mormon faith; (also) any of his successors as leader.

  3. ji on September 22, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    In early Church history, Joseph Smith was THE Prophet — after the martyrdom, the Quorum of the Twelve became the presiding body of the Church, with Brigham Young as President of the Twelve, not President of the Church. The First Presidency was re-organized three years later, and the President of the Church was sustained as prophet, seer, and revelator, but as I understand for many, many years the President of the Church was not commonly referred to as the prophet. Only in recent years, during the term of President David O. McKay, did it become more common to refer to the President of the Church as the prophet — and then, it was really only the president — only in very recent years, such as on the church website, do we commonly refer to all the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve as prophets. I tend to think we’re too liberal with our use of the term. In my own usage, I generally speak of Joseph Smith as THE Prophet. I generally speak of Thomas S. Monson as the President of the Church.

    To people in Appleby’s day, Joseph Smith was the one and the only prophet.

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