At this busy and wonderful time of the year, many people’s thoughts turn to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and rightly so as we seek to draw closer to him and find ways to help and serve others as he did.
However, another important December date is often forgotten in the rush of the season. On Dec. 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vt., the fifth child of Joseph and Lucy Smith, Joseph Smith, Jr., was born.
While members of the church worship and acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ, yet they should revere Joseph Smith.
From the tender age of 14 his purpose, growing ever more fixed as his life progressed, was to do the will of God and to reestablish on earth Christ’s church, the priesthood of God, and all attendant ordinances and covenants necessary for the salvation of mankind.
As the Doctrine and Covenants affirms, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” The breadth and depth of his accomplishments are astounding and as I more closely studied his life and accomplishments I came to revere him and to know that he was and is a Prophet of God.
Even with this my esteem grew as we came to the close of a two-year study of his teachings and considered his last hours in Carthage Jail.
As the Prophet and his brother sat in Carthage both knew their deaths were imminent.
We are provided a window into both their souls as we consider their interests at this time.
Hyrum read from Ether in the Book of Mormon, and through those pages the Lord spoke to him. “And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou has been faithful.”
What were Hyrum’s interests shortly before his death? He desired the salvation of those determined to kill him. He petitioned the Savior to extend his grace to them that they might develop the charity, or the pure love of Christ, requisite for salvation. It is astounding and informative that at this perilous time Hyrum sought grace for his enemies.
As the sultry afternoon passed the Prophet Joseph Smith requested John Taylor sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”
Originally it was a seven-stanza poem written in 1826 by Englishman James Montgomery and later set to music.
John Taylor learned the hymn on his mission in England in 1840 and included it in the church’s Manchester Hymnal. It was also included in the 1841 church hymnal the Prophet commissioned his wife, Emma, to compile for the church and became a favorite of the Prophet.
Anticipating the wretched mob’s approach, Joseph’s request provides a window into his soul, as we consider the words of the hymn. It describes “a poor wayfaring man of grief” whose interminable suffering is consistently ameliorated by the narrator of the poem. He explains that this poor wayfarer “Hath often crossed me on my way, / Who sued so humbly for relief / That I could never answer nay” — such a perfect description of the Prophet, his tender heart and ever solicitous attention to others.
The song describes the poor wayfaring man “perishing for want of bread.” The narrator responds by sharing his “scanty meal” with the wayfarer who, in turn, “gave me part again. Mine was an angel’s portion then, For … The crust was manna to my taste.”
How these words must have appealed to Joseph.
He came to treasure the refiner’s fire that was his life, understanding how miniscule his sacrifice when compared to the infinite and all-encompassing sacrifice of the Savior.
Joseph knew that he, and all mankind, by virtue of the Atonement, were and would be forever in debt to the Savior, the “bread of life.”
When the wayfarer is perishing from thirst the narrator “thrice from the stream” fills his cup and, “He drained my cup, Dipped and returned it running o’er; I drank and never thirsted more.” Joseph knew Christ was “the living water.”
The poem acknowledges that in Christ Joseph found “rest” and “peace (to bind) up my broken heart.” When, “In pris’n I saw him next, condemned To meet a traitor’s doom,” the narrator is quick to stem “The tide of lying tongues,” though it brings upon him “shame and scorn.” When the wayfarer “asked if I for him would die. The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill, But my free spirit cried, ‘I will!'”
Even as the mob gathered outside the jail, the Prophet affirmed with song, his willingness to give his life in the cause of Jesus Christ.
And then, “The Savior stood before mine eyes. He spake, and my poor name he named, ‘Of me thou hast not been ashamed. These deeds shall thy memorial be; Fear not, thou didst them unto me.'”
Clearly, the Prophet’s love for “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” lay in the fact that it expressed Joseph’s pure and perfect love, his awe for his mentor and Savior, Jesus Christ, while metaphorically encapsulating Joseph’s life of service and devotion to the Savior and others regardless the cost.
Christmas is a busy time of year.
However, Dec. 23 is a good time to remember and reflect on all that Joseph Smith did for each of us. He was and is a Prophet of God.