I just finished The Truman G. Madsen Story: A Life of Study and Faith. It is a remarkable biography. Truman was a prominent philosopher and theologian. He wrote and spoke constantly in all parts of the world. He had friends in all political and religious persuasions. He was a Latter-day Saint.
One unique aspect of Truman’s scholarly path is his acknowledgment of the first Latter-day Saint prophet, Joseph Smith. A 19th century man who lived only 38 years and yet brought forth volumes of words, (and volumes more unrecorded). An individual who prophesied and performed miracles, a man who stood boldly before enemies and earnestly before followers. For many, Joseph Smith’s doctrines dissolved an unfamiliar God, to a living, knowable being, who Jesus Christ intimately called, Father.
This resonated with Truman G. Madsen. He felt that knowing and pursuing our true relation to Deity was of utmost importance. He attributed to Joseph Smith’s teachings and revelations, his own discovery of his intimate path back to the Son, and with the Son, to the Father.
Some would ask Truman, “Why are you so preoccupied with reading the life and teachings of Joseph Smith.” His response: “He is like a window, through which I can see the living Christ. He was no mystic, he was a prophet, he gave us truth, he recognized the limitations imposed upon us by ancient creeds, and he frees us for direct experience ourselves. . . . Through [Joseph Smith] I can see Christ more clearly than any other writer or theologian or philosopher in Western history. . . . People who think of Joseph as simply a local country parson (i.e. preacher) who had a few strange ideas and got himself in trouble—they miss him entirely. So in the end, to the degree that Joseph Smith is transparent to Christ, he is a precious commodity in the theological arsenal. That’s why I keep reading. That’s why I keep testifying” (see The Truman G. Madsen Story, 369-374).
Although Joseph Smith the Prophet only attained the formal education that a young farm boy of the early 1800’s could gain, he developed into an intellectual giant. He continuously sought further knowledge from the Almighty and increased in righteousness, truth, and power. It would be injustice to use the term, self-taught. “I am a rough stone,” he said, “the sound of the hammer and the chisel was never heard on me until the Lord took me in hand. I desire the learning of Heaven alone” (History of the Church 5:423).
Many acknowledge Joseph Smith’s lack of formal education. In fact, he himself, his wife, and his mother acknowledged his weaknesses because of the absence of formal education. However, from the age of 14 until his death at age 38, he was on an accelerated course. According to one of Joseph Smith’s contemporaries, John Taylor, “all leading characters mentioned in the scriptures, who operated in the various dispensations, came and conferred upon Joseph the various keys, rights, privileges and immunities which they enjoyed in their time”(Journal of Discourses, 21:94).
Any honest reader of the Old and New Testaments concurs that a loving Heavenly Father has “reached out” in different dispensations (numerous ages of man’s existence) “by calling prophets and dispensing gospel blessings through His prophets to the people.” The Bible confirms angelic ministrants are involved, and that ancient apostles saw that in the last days the Lord would follow the same pattern (For one example, see Ephesians 1:10).
Boldly Joseph declared toward the end of his life, “I am learned, and know more than all the world put together. The Holy Ghost does, anyhow, and He is within me, and comprehends more than all the world: and I will associate myself with Him” (History of the Church, 6:308). This statement may seem to be one of arrogance, but it is one of humility. Joseph was never self-promoting and consistently acknowledged his source. Angelic visitations, coupled with the Holy Ghost, helped to shape the remarkable mind of Joseph Smith. More and more are noting that he wasn’t a mere second hand preacher earnestly trying to start a neighborhood Church. In 2015, Smithsonian put Joseph number one for religious leaders in their issue, The 100 Most Significant Americans of all Time.
“The best way to get truth and wisdom” Joseph said, “is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teachings” (History of the Church, 4:425). We should follow that directive in all of our pursuits.
We cannot dismiss the omniscience of God while here on earth. We must seek after Him. He is the source of unlimited wisdom. Many have found Him, and so can you and I.
In my opinion, Joseph Smith became the most intelligent man of the 19th century. He knew Christ personally, and left on record—with other witnesses—how he did and how we can.
Occasionally people ask me why I read and write about Joseph Smith so often. Like Truman Madsen, I have several reasons. But in short, Jesus Christ is my friend and Joseph Smith is His. I have read what Joseph Smith brought forth to the world. I have participated in the ordinances of the House of God he set forth under angelic supervision. The 25 year exercise of reading, pondering, writing, speaking, and participating has helped me understand and appreciate my relationship with the Savior. Like Truman Madsen, that’s why I keep reading. That’s why I keep testifying.